Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fiona Friday - I am preparing to bolt

"Just so you know, human . . . I'm not sticking around. See the ears flattening? The wide eyes? I was totally zen till you pulled out the evil camera thing." -- Fiona

©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, September 27, 2011

Weekly Reading Update #6 - Reviews of Haiku Mind, A Taste of Salt, Learning to Bow and To the Moon and Back

Before we talk books, we must admire the spider lilies!!!

I'd never seen spider lilies before I moved to the Deep South and every year I am awed by them. This year, the spider lilies bloomed early. Usually, they don't show up till October, but I'm assuming our very early cool front fooled them into blooming prematurely. Spider lilies don't last long if it warms back up (which it did, after a few blissful days), so I rushed down to my neighbor's yard, walked around and sat on her driveway to snap a few photos. Three days later, her yard service mowed them all down. They're not exactly a precision lawn-care service.

So . . . books. Books, books. This past week was a good one. I finished 4 books and only one of them didn't thrill me -- but I still managed to get something out of it.

Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan - I've been hacking away at this book of "108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart" for at least 6 weeks. It's best taken in small doses, actually. From the intro:

This is not just an anthology of haiku poems, but rather spiritual reflections on 108 haiku--I used 108 because it is an auspicious number in Buddhist thought as there are 108 difficulties to overcome in order to become awakened [. . . ]

The haiku chosen to talk about the theme of "adversity", for example:

violets here and there
in the ruins
of my burnt house

After the haiku, the author talks about the haiku, it's meaning or (sometimes) why the author wrote it. And, then she talks about the concept and how we can react to it on a spiritual level. The book is really about being open and accepting in life. It's quite lovely. My only complaint is that the author has a tendency to write in fragments, which can become irritating, hence the recommendation to read it slowly and in small doses. Definitely recommended for those curious about haiku and/or seeking a book for relaxing daily reading and reflection on spirituality.

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate is a book Algonquin Books sent me unsolicited. I tend to love a lot of those Algonquin surprise books, but this one was a little disappointing. Josie is a black marine biologist married to a white man. It's challenging enough being a smart black woman in a white man's world, but she also has her family in Cleveland to deal with. Her alcoholic father has been sober for a decade but her parents' marriage never recovered. And, Josie's brother is following down his father's path, battling addiction.

After a trip home to fetch brother Tick from rehab, Josie finds that she's must confront her difficult past. But, while Josie finds herself still unable to share her inner feelings with her husband, she encounters someone who helps her to forget the fact that she never seems to quite fit in, anywhere.

I don't think I'll say much more than that because I might give too much away, but I'll tell you what I liked and disliked about The Taste of Salt. It was fascinating peeking into the world of an educated black woman, seeing the world through her eyes and realizing just how incredibly difficult it must be to succeed when bettering yourself is considered somehow betraying your entire race. The author didn't attempt to make sense of the whole "acting white" concept or why it's irrational, but the glimpse into Josie's world is revealing.

Unfortunately, the story is a little sordid and definitely too tragic for my personal taste. Josie allows herself to be ruled by her emotions and her refusal to work on her issues in a moral, positive way causes her world to crumble. The Taste of Salt is a sad, sad story. I'd have liked to see a bit more of a redemption and an ending with hope.

Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler is about Feiler's year spent teaching English in a Japanese school. As memoirs go, it's beautifully written, honest, clear and engrossing. He talks about his triumphs and errors, friendships and occasional disastrous social experiences, travels outside of the small town where he taught and the contrast between city and small-town life in Japan.

I think the highest praise I can give Feiler, besides the fact that his writing is excellent and obviously well researched (when he goes into detail about historical background, you know he's done his homework) is that Learning to Bow is written with great respect. He observes and records his thoughts on Japanese society (often in comparison to the West or the U.S., since he's American) from the perspective of an outsider viewing Japan through the educational system without ever stooping to cliche or demeaning the Japanese in any way.

Also, I think it's a testament to Feiler's fine writing that I found myself thinking, "I can't wait to read more of his books," even while I was still in the midst of reading Learning to Bow. Highly, highly recommended.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell is over 400 pages long, but her books are such breezy fun that I whipped through it in about 2 days. Ellie Kendall's husband has died in a tragic automobile accident. She conjurs up his image up and speaks to him, now and then, knowing he is a figment of her imagination -- not a ghost but a deliberate creation, her way of holding onto him just a while longer.

After a time, Ellie becomes tired of the knowing glances and comments that people make at work, the way they treat her more gently because of her loss. She needs a change; it's time to move on. When her famous father-in-law decides to purchase a home in upscale Primrose Hill, she moves in as its caretaker. There, she finds a new friend, slowly reenters the world of romance and locates a job where she can be herself without worrying about the word "widow" hanging over her head. Her boss is handsome and wealthy but happy to have an office manager who is not the slightest bit interested in him.

Meanwhile, Ellie's new best friend is in love with a married man, her father-in-law falls for a woman who is going through a time of turmoil, and her relationship with her husband's best friend becomes more than a little confusing.

Like all of Jill Mansell's books, there is one main romantic storyline but there are other little romances going on, on the side. Honestly, I don't know how she does it. Jill Mansell is such a pro. There's always an inciting incident and you know the heroine will fall happily in love. But, the journey is inevitably surprising and always massively entertaining. As I mentioned last week, I cried through a good portion of this book because the death of Ellie's husband hit a little too close to home, but I knew that was just me being emotional. Like every other Mansell title, I loved To the Moon and Back. I'd particularly recommend her books as a light read for beach or plane or anytime you're looking for an uplifting, happy storyline.

Next up, I hope to finish that book on outdoor design. But, I've been happily diverted. I'm currently rereading Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy. You know I adore Simon and am enamored of his writing but I confess the beginning of the book is rough. It's very flowery. If you haven't read it or you've tried and the metaphorical onslaught conquered you, I recommend patience. The heavy use of metaphor tapers off, eventually. Everything Beautiful Began After is truly a lovely story about wounded souls, deep friendship, grief, and learning to live every moment as if it is your last.

The other book in my sidebar is a book of poetry by a friend of Simon's, Lives by Lucas Hunt. The jury is still out on this one. It's not lyrical poetry . . . I'm not sure quite how to describe it. But, having seen the author do a bit of reading online, I can tell you that this author's poetry sounds better coming from the author's mouth. Lucas appears to be utterly charming.

In other news, one of the main reasons for my minimal blogging (my new fitness regime) has resulted in yet another drop in size. I've now lost 3 dress sizes. Oh, how fun it was to hear the zipper go up with ease on my goal dress, this weekend! I rustled around in the closet and found a new goal dress to work toward fitting into, this morning. I've still got a long way to go, but I am really excited to be on a downward trend in clothing sizes. And, I'm sure future airplane seat mates will appreciate my shrinking hips, as well.

What's up in your world, this week?

©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, September 25, 2011

Banned Books are for Sharing

My first attempt at writing up a post on Banned Books Week went awry, thanks to a little injudicious cutting and pasting, so this time I'm going to truncate my text a bit and go with something a wee bit different. Drawing from a variety of banned-book lists, I'm going to talk about three of the banned/challenged books I've read and what they meant to me and my children. I will not be reading a banned book, this week, due to time constraints. But, I do have about a half dozen still waiting for me. I don't think I realized any book I came home with had been challenged or banned, at the time of purchase.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger - I've only read it once and I suspect it wouldn't mean as much to me on a second reading, but when I began collecting classics for my personal library, in my early twenties, The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first I managed to find in our library's perpetual sale corner. I remember being surprised by the style, the informality and the very personal, voyeuristic sensation of reading from Holden Caulfield's point of view.

I also recall how easily I related to his pain and angst and yet, at the same time, I thought it was terribly funny watching him go completely nutso. The reason I related is that I still remembered junior high, I suppose. Now? Hard to say if I'd like it. But, as a fairly young reader, I appreciated that frank view of fictional Holden's misery at a time only a decade past two really miserable years during which I was lonely, awkward and bullied.

Recommended to my own kids? Yes, I handed it to both kids, at some point. I don't think either of them enjoyed it.

While searching for cover images, I found an article within a post noting J. D. Salinger's death at The War Eagle Reader. The article was originally printed in 1962. I highly recommend that you click that link and read the 1962 article, just for grins.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Another book I read quite some time ago, I recall realizing that I had no idea what I was getting into when I started to read this futuristic book about a man whose job is burning books and whose wife has left reality for the companionship of a simulated family. I absolutely loved Fahrenheit 451. It's a bit dystopian, really, isn't it? I'm using the Merriam-Webster definition:

Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.

My fondness for dystopian novels (particularly futuristic and rooted in reality, as opposed to those that are more fantasy-oriented) is that they make you think, "What if this really occurred? Could it really happen? Are we headed that way? If so, what can our society do to prevent [the bad things] from occurring?"

Ironically, I think the simulated family in Fahrenheit 451 is the closest thing to a prophetic offering the book can claim. The Sims, anyone? Otherwise, I honestly only have flashes of memories about this book.

Recommended to my own kids? Yes! Both of my sons are book gobblers. They read fast and they go through obsessive reading phases and lulls. I think my eldest was in junior high when he came to me with the complaint that he'd run out of reading material and could I please give him some suggestions? I handed him Fahrenheit 451 and it immediately became his new favorite book. One year in the not-too-distant past, we ordered an autographed copy for him for Christmas. He also has a copy of the movie, which I've never seen. I don't think my youngest son has managed to finish Fahrenheit 451, although he kept a copy tucked in the back seat pocket of my car, for a time. Perhaps hacking away at it on brief road jaunts isn't the best way to read Fahrenheit 451. He did tell me he was intrigued, in spite of giving up about halfway through the book. It had been in the car for a couple months, by the time he decided it wasn't the best book for reading as we drove about.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's [Philosopher's] Stone by J. K. Rowling - I recall how my curiosity was piqued when I read about the excitement in Great Britain over this popular fantasy novel, well before it was released in the U.S. I just had to see what the fuss was all about and ended up buying the British version while we were in Scotland. I later purchased the Americanized version (which, frankly, ticked me off -- I think our children are perfectly capable of figuring out British English; if not, a glossary is a very fine addition to any book) for comparison. I was completely blown away by Rowling's wildly imaginative world and, admittedly, stunned when the book began to be challenged. Harry is the good in a good vs. evil plot! I was always impressed with Harry's strength of character. Magic was simply the world, the setting, the fantasy aspect.

At any rate, I loved Harry's world. But, I am not much good at reading series books back-to-back. I get series fatigue and I burned out either during or after #4. Someday, I'll get through the rest of the series. I didn't manage to acquire all of the novels in their original UK versions, but I prefer unsanitized British English. Kiddo doesn't care. Either way, he loves all the Harry Potter books.

Recommended to my own kids? Of course! My youngest son was one of those lunatics who had to stand in line for the midnight release of at least two of the books. He and his current girlfriend are both Potter fanatics, to this day. My eldest, on the other hand, was disinterested. But, he was in college and had other things on his mind.

Are you reading a banned book, this week?

©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, September 23, 2011

Fiona Friday - Excuse me, but . . .

. . . you are violating my personal air space.

©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, September 19, 2011

Weekly Reading Update #5

As reading weeks go, this past week was not one of great quantity, but I enjoyed what I read and am loving my current reads. I finished The Oracle of Stamboul (<----link to my review) in record time because it so thoroughly sucked me in. Loved the characters, the setting, the storyline. It was just an all-around great reading experience and I highly recommend it.

Next up was my mystery book, the unpublished manuscript by my friend, Greg Moffatt. I'm trying to make sure I focus on finishing at least one of the books that have been lurking too long in my sidebar, each week, and I was anxious
to get back to this one. Greg is multi-published, with several psychology books on violence, crime, etc. and one on parenting but his new manuscript is a coming-of-age memoir. I enjoyed it. Greg's a very good writer and I have no doubt he'll find a publisher for this book, as well.

Since I finished Greg's book, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off, running numerous errands, going to the gym, taking pictures with my new camera (I finally got a lens, after several weeks of borrowing) and cleaning like a madwoman. Our house has had a clutter problem for ages and we've been hacking away at it, but this week was one of those weeks that I was in "just let's toss it out, for crying out loud" mode. Sometimes, don't you just wish time would expand to fit all the things you need to accomplish? I felt that way, this week. My reading suffered due to all the cleaning and errands, but I've started two more books. I'm nothing if not an addict.

Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler has been on my shelf for several years and when I decided now is the time, I didn't actually know quite where to look for it. As it turned out, I'd placed the book on a fairly prominent shelf. Wahoo for that! I thought I'd read two of his books, but after looking at Bruce Feiler's website, I realize I've only read one: Abraham. It was excellent and prompted me to collect the two other titles I own: Walking the Bible and Looking for Class.

Learning to Bow is about the year Feiler spent teaching in Japan and it is absorbing, so far. Japanese customs are so very far removed from those in America that it's easy to appreciate the author's occasional discomfort and utterly fascinating to read about his conversations with co-workers, internal thoughts, comparisons to life in the U.S. I don't have the book handy, but the publication date was the early Nineties. I can't say what, if anything, may have changed in twenty years, but Learning to Bow is an engrossing read and hopefully still fairly accurate.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell is an ARC from Sourcebooks. I started reading it about 2 days ago and managed 97 pages, during about 80 of which I had tears streaming down my face. As with all of Mansell's books, there is a major change that takes place in the life of the heroine at the beginning of To the Moon and Back. In this case, a woman is widowed after her husband suffers a severe head injury in an automobile accident. The bits where he was in a coma were rough reading for me, simply because they were so authentic and I've been through watching a loved one linger in a coma then having to contribute to the decision to unplug life support when it became clear that brain function was gone.

But, of course, the tragedy is just an opening to yet another fun, romantic storyline. I am crazy about Jill Mansell's books. They're consistently enjoyable and every story is unique. Mansell has a terrific sense of humor and a wonderful way of tugging the heartstrings.

I'm also reading my camera manual. Exciting, no? I'm not sure which of the two remaining lurkers I'll focus on finishing, this week -- probably Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room, since Haiku Mind is a book from my personal library and The Outdoor Room is one that was sent to me for review.

Incidentally, that last post about my review policy (which seems kind of pointless, since I'm not going to accept any ARCs till I've read or attempted everything I've already received) was awfully fun to write because it gave me a chance to reflect on what it is that I really love to read and the few types of books that don't interest me. Odd timing, though, writing a review policy as I've come to the conclusion that it's not fair to anyone for me to accept any books, eh?

I am slowly returning to some minimal blog-hopping, when I can find a spare moment, plus a bit of twittering. And, I plan to continue working on updating various bits of the blog. Next up, I hope to improve my author links and then update links to other blogs. As always, if you're a regular visitor and I haven't managed to add you to my blog roll, please feel free to ask me to add you. I can use the nudge. Since I've given up using Google Reader, I realize that I didn't transfer some blogs I was reading regularly to my blog roll, so there are probably at least a few people out there who are baffled as to why I suddenly stopped visiting. I need to amend that problem.

How was your reading week?

©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, September 17, 2011

My Review Policy

I've never written up an official review policy so this post is obviously overdue after 5 1/2 years of blogging. I will make updates, as necessary, when there are changes in my life or blog.

Currently, I'm not accepting any review books at all. I've got a couple stacks of advanced review books that I haven't gotten around to reading and I simply don't feel like it would be fair to authors or publishers to accept books I'm unlikely to get to in a timely manner. I will continue to read those review books already received till I'm done with all of them. Then, I'll reconsider my policy.

Just before I ceased to accept review books, I began to request an excerpt from any book someone asked me to read because I felt I was setting too many aside. I used to do what I call the "flip test" when shopping for books. It still works - if more than one random passage grabs my interest and I want to keep reading, I will almost certainly finish a book.

Oh, and I don't do e-books. I'm just not a fan of them, yet. Maybe someday.

There are a few exceptions:

I will always accept books by favorite authors. Simon Van Booy, Sarah Addison Allen and Patricia Wood come to mind. My author links are also in dire need of an update, so till I amend those you can just assume anyone not in my tiny author-links list is not a favorite, even though that's a Big Fat Lie. I have a lot of favorites.

What I like to read and may accept if/when I return to accepting ARCs:

Just about everything. It would be easier to tell you what I don't like, but I'll do my best to mention what I really enjoy.
  • I'm a history buff, but not knowledgable about history, so I like reading both historical fiction and history (as long as it's readable, not scholarly). I'm a big fan of novels set during wars, particularly WWII, WWI, Vietnam and the Napoleonic Wars.
  • I love reading about survival, whether real or fictional.
  • I like the occasional YA, including the paranormal kind (but not vampires - I am so sick of vampires . . . except for Justin Cronin's . . . and I'm not into demons, but angels are okay), those with a touch of magic or a futuristic world (like InsideOut by Maria Snyder, Wither by Lauren DeStefano and Divergent by Veronica Roth).
  • Literary fiction floats my boat, provided it is not wholly depressing. I like a ray of hope in my literature.
  • Poetry is an area in which I've recently developed a passion. I read poetry for imagery, rhythm, the senses, and wit. Scholarly work goes right over my head.
  • Short stories - Love 'em. But only if they're done right. I like stories that leave you with a sense of completion. Stories by Simon Van Booy, Nabokov, Chekov, Shirley Jackson and Siobhan Fallon come to mind. Haruki Murikami has recently pleasurably warped my brain. So, I guess I don't need all short stories to be perfectly wrapped up. And, Jack Finney -- oh, how I love Jack Finney.
  • Children's books - Picture books and middle readers, especially if they're humorous, historical or meaningful, are always favorites. When I review picture books, I read them to my cats and then do my best to find a good home for them when I finish.
  • Light fantasy is okay. I recently enjoyed Chime by Franny Billingsley, for example. I tend to dislike fantasy that's heavy on long, weird, hard-to-remember names.
  • Travel memoirs - Crazy about them. I love reading about places I'll never go, places I've been, places I hope to travel.
  • Other memoirs - The more light-hearted, upbeat and hopeful, the better. However, I do like reading about a variety of experiences. The only memoir I've recently failed to complete was one that I found pretentious and heavy-handed. Fire Season by Philip Connors is a recent favorite. I also love Stand Before Your God by Paul Watkins and Autobiography by Benvenuto Cellini.
  • Books about books, books about writing, books about authors (including the newfangled fictional variety, like The Paris Wife - which I haven't read, but I'm intrigued).
  • Coffee-table books. I don't own a coffee table (bummer) but I love to dive into big, beautiful books - design, history, photography, art, and huge, beautiful cookbooks are on my shelves.
  • Action/adventure. I've yet to read a Dirk Pitt book, but I just have this sneaking suspicion I'll like them when I do. I like escapist reading. That goes for children's and YA, as well as adult novels. Even zombies have made their way into my reading, since they're adventurous and survival-oriented.
  • Quirky novels and books on unusual topics.
  • Sci-fi, particularly futuristic or time travel.
  • Dystopian fiction, provided it's not so bleak I'll need an antidepressant milkshake when I'm through (or shock treatment to help me forget). I love the survival aspect, naturally.
  • Old-fashioned noir like Dashiell Hammett's books. I adore Dashiell Hammett. A couple years ago, I read one of the Baby Shark books by Robert Fate and absolutely loved it. It's violent and dark but very, very well-written. I couldn't put that sucker down.
  • Speaking of atmosphere, I enjoy ghost stories, whether "real" or imaginary.
  • Suspense, if done well. Daphne DuMaurier comes to mind, although one of the books I read by DuMaurier was, in fact, a wall-banger. I've read quite a few of her books.
  • Cookbooks - even though I don't cook much. I'm trying!!!! And, I love to read cookbooks, mark recipes and beg my husband to whip them up. Fortunately, he's usually willing. Right now, I'm reading a cookbook because I desire to find my inner domestic goddess. Wish me luck.
  • Science and nature for the general audience. For example, I love books about plagues past and coming, natural disasters, wildlife, climate change, etc.
  • Classics. I love the fact that many are being re-packaged and re-released, often with some sort of book about the book (like the recent book about Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird . . . which I haven't read, so I might be blowing hot air, but I like the idea).

Well. If that's not enough to make your head spin, I think there might be something wrong with you.

Here are a few things I avoid like the plague:
  • True Crime
  • Anything with extreme violence, gore, graphic sex and an unbearable amount of vulgarity -- although, I do occasionally read romance, I prefer my romance chaste and adventurous.
  • Books in which a main character has cancer.
  • Any book that is so depressing you'll want to slit your wrists when it's over. Give us hope, people! A book can end sadly but still manage to shine a ray of hope on tragedy. Any story, like Saint Maybe, in which things go wrong, keep going wrong and then end tragically is out.
  • Popular fiction - I tend to avoid bestsellers. Don't ask me why. I can't even figure that out. There are exceptions, of course. I read The Help, which you'll soon find falls into *two* of my "meh" categories. It took a great deal of convincing, but I loved it.
  • Anything at all by Nicholas Sparks. Gag me. Some sap is okay, but deliberate tragedy pisses me off.
Things I only occasionally read:
  • Southern fiction - I live in the South and don't find Southern fic escapist enough for my taste. But, people keep talking me into reading Southern fiction they like. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm really iffy about Southern fic.
  • Mysteries - I'll read maybe one or two a year, max. I burned out on mysteries about a half-dozen years ago and haven't gone back to reading them regularly. When I did, I was an Anne Perry, Dick Francis, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and Lillian Jackson Braun fan. You know, just FYI.
  • Women's fiction - There are exceptions, but I tend to balk at titles that are billed as women's fiction. I really just dip into them when the storyline is appealing and it's difficult to boil that down to a few sentences so let's just say I read some but I can't say whether or not a title that falls into this particular classification will appeal to me.
  • Jane Austen spin-offs. Sometimes I will, sometimes I won't.
  • Chick lit. I'm really weird about this. I like British chick lit, but not American or Irish, in general. But, I hate calling it "chick lit" because that entire romance subgenre is so reviled. A romantic romp with humor can be a really fun, comforting read and my all-time favorite, go-to author is Jill Mansell. In Great Britain, they classify her books as general fiction. Good on you, British publishers. We need to throw that chick lit term out the door.
Here are a few books I've recently purchased:

Yep. I'm into variety, all right.

©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, September 15, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Copyright 2011
Harper Perennial - Historical Fiction
294 pages

The Oracle of Stamboul is the story of young Eleonora Cohen. Born during a fierce battle in Constanta (a city on the Black Sea), in 1877, baby Eleonora's mother only has time to utter her name before tragically dying. But the two Tartar midwives who delivered her stay to help the newly widowed father, Yacob, until the baby's aunt arrives to help. As young Eleonora grows, it quickly becomes obvious that she is a savant. Aunt and stepmother Ruxandra believes Eleonora's brilliance will only cause undue attention and prevent her from finding a husband, so she teaches the girl to keep house and strictly limits her reading material.

When Yacob must travel by boat to Stamboul to sell his surplus carpets, Eleonora stows away. Then tragedy strikes. In Stamboul, the young prodigy finds a teacher and a surrogate parent, a hidden hallway and intrigue. Her world begins to open up, yet she is still sheltered. When her abilities become known, Eleonora finds herself in the unusual position of charming a sultan. But, is being a well-known genius too much for a little girl? What will happen when Eleonora is forced to choose between a comfortable but restrictive life and her heart's desire?

Wow. What a beautiful story. Anyone who reads my blog regularly probably knows I'm not the fastest reader on the block. But, only the fact that I had to sleep kept me from reading The Oracle of Stamboul in a single day. It is absolutely magical, a tale so gloriously descriptive that I wanted to climb right into Eleonora's world. I loved Eleonora, her father, her surrogate parent (I'm being a little shifty, here -- trying not to give too much away) and appreciated the fact that there was plenty of conflict and a couple mildly villainous characters without any threat to her innocence.

Eleonora is a lovely child, level-headed and thoughtful. I loved how the two extremely kind and steady adults in her life guided her in a way that allowed her to make a crucial decision, in the end. And, of course, I loved the richness of the setting.

I was a little thrown, at first, by both the location and its history. I looked up "Constanta" and "Stamboul," assuming the two cities were probably the city once known as Constantinople and Istanbul. It was pretty late at night when I looked up the two cities, but the author's notes at least confirmed the latter. I know very little about Turkey, apart from what I was told by a friend who used to live there, and certainly next to nothing about its history. But, I found The Oracle of Stamboul was pretty easy to follow as long as I didn't try too hard to place the story in proper historical context. I just didn't know enough to fully understand the politics, although the setting was vivid and doubly easy to visualize with a little help from Google Images.

Politics and setting aside, the tale is really about Eleonora, a fish out of water so fiercely intelligent that the adults around her feel obligated to shelter her. There are some mystical touches to the story. A flock of birds stays with Eleonora wherever she goes. The Tartar midwives are led to her home at the time of her birth by various signs and claim she's been chosen to change the world, to restore it to its proper axis.

Since Eleonora is a prolific reader, it's fun to read about the many books she gobbles down. I found myself a little envious of the fictional Eleonora, wishing I could read, digest and remember a fraction of what she reads during her first 8 years of life.

An absolutely breathtaking book, highly recommended. I had a tiny bit of trouble getting into The Oracle of Stamboul, at first (for about the first 15-20 pages) because of my ignorance about the setting, but it didn't take long till I was completely sucked in and found it unbearable to set the book aside. The Oracle of Stamboul will definitely go on my list of favorites for 2011.

Many thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book!

©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.

Fiona Fursday - Share, please?

Fiona Friday will return, next week, at its regularly scheduled time. I have a book tour on Friday, this week.

©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.

Quotes from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

I just popped my copy of The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine in an envelope and mailed it to a book buddy I hope will appreciate it. But, before I did, I typed up a few quotes I thought were worth hanging onto. Since my reviews are extremely short, right now, I may do this on occasion, when I think a book is particularly quotable.

Quotes from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky:

That night I dreamed of Kalganow for the first time. It was strange. In the dream my husband was still young. He looked the way he had when we first met. I was sixteen, and he was a friend of my brother. Five years older, a grown man. Three years later, my brother jumped from the twelfth floor of a high rise. He was always a peculiar person. [...]

We got married shortly after my eighteenth birthday. He'd had a girlfriend in the meantime. She was neither attractive nor smart, but I was still sick with jealousy. I had secretly kneeled down in the bath and prayed to God for assistance. Actually, I just wanted to make sure my future husband didn't decide to marry this other girl before I was old enough. But God overdid it a little. My future husband's girlfriend died suddenly of tuberculosis.

--pp. 69-70

Dieter had a look that must have attracted small-time criminals on the street. His smile said, "I'm new here and don't have the slightest clue. Please take all my money and punch me in the head."

--p. 152

"Your first meal in the West should be a hamburger," said Dieter.

We sat down at the table--white plates, gray utensils, floral paper napkins--and found ourselves looking at a plate of large meatballs, and another with rolls cut in half and slices of tomato and pickle and pieces of lettuce leaf. There was also a bottle of something we'd gotten acquainted with the day before at McDonald's: Ketchup. It looked as if Dieter hadn't quite finished preparing the meal. He obviously needed a woman.

I watched as Dieter picked up a roll, opened it, laid a meatball down on it, squirted on some ketchup, piled on some of the raw vegetables and closed the roll again. And to think this person had once had the nerve to turn his nose up at my cooking!

--p. 169

I couldn't leave Aminat with Dieter. If she were to stab him over something she didn't like, even if it were an accident, we could forget about marriage and citizenship.

--p. 188

John entered the room and sat down on a chair nearby. I didn't hold it against him that he hadn't been able to bring Aminat to me. It was the only thing so far that he hadn't pulled off--and he still had a better success rate than God.

--p. 260

Doesn't The Hottest Dishes sound fun? And, since I have a spare moment to upload a photo, here's another pic from the Boston Public Library. I need a mini version of this guy to guard my home library:

©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, September 12, 2011

Weekly Reading Update #4 - Incl. mini reviews of The Call, The Lost Wife and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

I thought last week would be a bad reading week because I spent half of my week in New England with Carrie, aka Care of Care's Online Book Club. I told her Simon Van Booy would be doing a reading at the Boston Public Library and advised her to go, a couple months ago. She said, "Why don't you come up here and go to the reading with me?" Well . . . who can pass up an invitation to hang out with a friend and see a favorite author in the same trip?

Simon was amazing, of course. He is a spectacular speaker, poised and elegant, charming and self-deprecating, witty and insightful. If you haven't read any of his books -- his novel, Everything Beautiful Began After and the two short story collections, The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter -- you really must. And, if you ever have an opportunity to see him, don't pass it up!!!

Of course, Carrie is always a blast to hang out with.

As it turned out, I still had a terrific reading week. Here's what I read:

The Call by Yannick Murphy (fiction) is about a veterinarian in Vermont whose son gets shot and goes into a coma. The vet thinks he's seeing spaceships, then something happens and he has to make a life-changing decision. That's a vast simplification. The Call is a riot. It's also touching, and an all-around good story, definitely one of the most enjoyable books I've picked up in a while. I highly recommend The Call, especially if you're looking for a quick, light and delightful read with plenty of drama and depth. I left my copy with Carrie because she asked. "Ask and ye shall receive" apparently still works just fine.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman is the story of a couple who are married and only together as husband and wife for a few days. Czechoslovakia is on the brink of invasion and Lenka refuses to leave her beloved family behind when her husband's family manages to acquire only enough visas to allow her to travel with them, but not her father, mother and sister. She reads his name in a list of dead after a U-boat attack. He believes she died in Auschwitz. Years later, they meet at the wedding of their grandchildren. The Lost Wife is a novel based on a true story and it's a good one. The only problem I had with it was a few weird tense changes. I'm guessing the author was trying to imbue certain scenes with an immediacy that past tense wouldn't allow, but the occasional switch to present tense was simply confusing. Otherwise -- great story, nicely written but not brilliantly so. Definitely recommended.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky is a book that Carrie playfully shoved on me and which I started reading almost immediately. I'd only brought The Call and Simon's Everything Beautiful Began After with me and I finished The Call the night I arrived. My first thought, as I began reading The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, was that reading it was probably the closest I've ever come to the reading equivalent of gawking at a car wreck. It's compelling, but why? Why couldn't I tear my eyes away? Possibly because it's really quite funny, if a bit freaky and disturbing. Rosa believes herself to be beautiful and perfect, the mother of an ugly, stupid daughter named Sulfia. Rosa accepts her daughter's explanation for her mysterious pregnancy -- that she dreamed of a man and became pregnant. Surely no man would have her ugly daughter.

When her granddaughter Aminat arrives, Rosa takes charge. Obviously, Sulfia is too dim and preoccupied to care for her own child. But, while this fierce grandmother works, takes care of her grandchild, henpecks her husband and drives her daughter batty, she also manages to keep all of them alive during a time of rationing and despair in Russia. Rosa is at once clueless and tenacious, self-confident to the point of being strident, baffling and fascinating, devious and admirable.

It's not a spoiler, to share the final two lines to give you a peek into Rosa's crazy, irreverent mode of speech:

"I was afraid to hear that she had already been there and that I hadn't noticed. I much preferred freeing metal countertops from encrusted bits of food and sending silent thanks to God, mechanically, out of courtesy--I mean, so he wouldn't feel totally useless."

In the end, I decided The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is, at its core, a survival story and I loved it. Now, I want to read Alina Bronsky's first book, Broken Glass Park. Thanks for sharing your copy of Tartar, Carrie!!!

I'm about 2/3 of the way through The Oracle of Stamboul, which I just began reading last night. It's a tour book that I'll review later this week. I didn't take anything from my sidebar along to Massachusetts, so the rest of those books are still languishing. Hopefully, I can begin to amend that, this week. I'll be home for a good, long time, now!

Just FYI, the Boston Public Library is full of awesome:

©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, September 09, 2011

Fiona Friday - Happy Places

Some of Fiona's favorite places, top to bottom:
  • My office floor (very messy, sorry to offend any eyeballs)
  • The bedroom window
  • The front entry rug (we haven't bothered to put down a slip-proof guard to stop her from taking magic carpet rides, so it's also a favorite during playtime)
  • On top of the hamper

©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, September 05, 2011

Weekly Reading Update #3 - Including mini reviews of Juniper Berry, Lord and Lady Spy, and Horoscopes for the Dead

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with my weekly reading update. I just thought it was cute.

This past week was a pretty good reading week! Happy am I! I finished reading 4 books.

Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky (Fiction; ages 8-12) is a book about a young girl who used to have a lovely life with her actor parents. Then, they became extremely famous (Jolie-Pitt famous), moved to a massive mansion, began to take less and less interest in her and finally became distant, angry, muttering strangers with no time for their daughter. When Juniper meets a young neighbor whose parents have gone through exactly the same thing, they decide to investigate. What they find involves a tree, a whole lot of balloons, lost souls, glowing bugs and an evil bad guy. I thought Juniper Berry started out terrific, went downhill and then ended on a decent note. It's not a favorite but it definitely would have qualified for the RIP VI Challenge, if I'd bothered to sign up . . . which I haven't done. But I still intend to, if it's not too late.

Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen (Romantic Historical Fiction) is not quite what I expected. I figured two spies married to each other would mean lots of adventurous spying, maybe a bit of Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Regency Style. Unfortunately, the book begins with a little spy action but quickly becomes a murder mystery involving the Lord and Lady competing with each other to try to win a spot in their former spy agency, which has mostly disbanded. Whilst trying to one-up each other (comparing the number of bullet scars) and trying to repair their floundering marriage (mucho graphic sex), they work on solving the mystery. Eventually, the storyline improves a bit, but this particular book was a little shy on the type of action and adventure I'm accustomed to in a Shana Galen book. It was only my love of her action scenes that kept me going. I'd particularly recommend this one to the romance crowd. I like a little chaste romance but I mostly read Galen's books for the action.

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins (Poetry) - Oh, how I love Billy Collins. I bought this slim volume of poetry at Borders. It was absolutely my most exciting find (although I found a lot of great books . . . maybe a few too many for the budget). I've already mentioned this book in last week's Fiona Friday post -- about how I admire the way Collins can turn something ordinary into a funny, witty, meaningful bit of poetic genius.

Take, for example, "What She Said". Here is how it begins:

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break.

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

--from "What She Said", p. 68 of Horoscopes for the Dead

I can't imagine anyone reading that and not breaking out in a grin. I absolutely loved Horoscopes for the Dead and gobbled it down in a single evening. It's definitely one for the keeper shelves. Wouldn't you know, my eldest has already dropped a hint that he'd be happy to take it off my hands! Um . . . gift idea?

The other book I finished will not be released till October 1 and the title wouldn't fit up there in the subject line because I already pretty well bogged it down. But, if you must know, it's a children's book entitled The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister and I'll definitely review it when the time comes.

Currently focusing on:

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman (Historical Fiction/WWII) - The story of a Czech couple separated at the beginning of WWII and reunited in the United States, many years later. Married but separated when she refuses to leave her family, his letters are returned and he assumes she was killed in a concentration camp. She reads his name in the list of dead when the boat he was taking to Canada from England is torpedoed. I will probably finish this book tonight or tomorrow and then I'll let you know what I think, next week!

I haven't picked up any of the other books currently in the "Now Reading" section of my sidebar for at least a week. Oh, no, that's not true. I still occasionally read a few pages of Haiku Mind. But, my friend's manuscript and Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room ended up at the bottom of my bedside pile, this week, and I let my whims take over my reading, as is often the case when I'm slumpy. I plan to focus on those two, soon. I took How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson out of my sidebar because that cupcake cover was making me hungry, but I'll keep hacking away at it because I do have the desire to become more domestic and I am just crazy about Nigella Lawson's chatty, relaxed writing style.

In other news, we only got about 6" of rain from Tropical Storm Lee -- definitely on the low side of predictions and the rainwater soaked in pretty nicely because we've had a lengthy drought. We have enjoyed the cool front that came along behind the storm. The cats are ecstatic about being able to sit in open windows, sniffing the outside smells.

How have you been doing, this week?

©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, September 02, 2011

Fiona Friday - Isabel, Isabel and what she has to do with Billy Collins, the poet

This is an all-Isabel Fiona Friday. Sorry, Fi. We'll be sure to let Fi return to being the one and only star, at least for a day, next week.

I was gobbling down the poetry in Billy Collins' Horoscopes for the Dead (a lucky Borders Closing purchase) when Isabel jumped up onto our bathroom counter, climbed into the sink and promptly curled up. This is a new one for Izzy. She occasionally hollers at me or knocks things off the counter till I show up to turn on the tap so she can have a drink. But, she's never taken a nap in the sink, before!

So, what does a cat napping in the sink have to do with Billy Collins? Well, if you've read anything by Billy Collins, you know he can take the most mundane experience, overheard conversation or little bit of nature spotted on a walk and turn it into something completely witty, wise and wonderful. Of course, I thought it was totally cute when Isabel curled up in the sink and attacked the drain hole. But, then I needed to wash my hands. And, after washing hands in the kitchen sink, I read a little more Billy Collins and stopped to wonder where I was going to brush my teeth.

I was ready to call up Mr. Collins and ask him to turn this experience into some sort of verse that would make it sound a little more fun than it was turning out to be. "Wise, witty and wonderful" were just not going to come out of any pen I put to paper. But, still . . . it was awfully cute.

And, on a totally different note, I have to show you what happened when I set out the jewelry I purchased for my son's wedding -- which didn't, in fact, arrive until after we returned from Nashville -- to photograph for curious friends. Isabel is always out to prove SuziQ's comment that with cats, "Everything's a toy."

©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.