Friday, March 30, 2012

Fiona Friday - Fiona Recommends

©2012 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, March 29, 2012

Travel Tales of London, Part 2

I've decided to go with a day of travel chatter between each book review, since I only have a few book reviews to catch up on (and those might end up being minis -- we shall see).

In Tuesday's post about book purchases, I mentioned that our flights to London had to be altered and our luggage didn't arrive with us. All three flights were exceptionally smooth, though, and we carry extra outfits and necessities to ensure that a luggage delay is not a total disaster. The man we talked to about retrieving our luggage was extremely courteous and competent -- and not having our wheeled bags meant not having to drag them through the tube! Wahoo! We arrived at our borrowed flat in Knightsbridge, bathed and rested before taking a walk around the neighborhood and through Harrod's, where a woman was singing opera in a formal gown on one of the balconies next to the Egyptian escalators. In the evening, I finished reading The Land of Decoration.

I must tell you about our funny moment when we arrived at the building. We knew the flat was a 3rd-floor walk-up (no lift) but there were no names on either the buzzer or the doors and when we arrived, we realized neither of us had bothered to inquire whether our host was referring to "3rd floor" in the British or American sense. What Americans refer to as the 1st floor is, of course, the "ground floor" in the UK. I guessed our host meant 3rd floor, British style, but Huzzybuns was uncertain and tried the key in the door of the 3rd floor flat, American style, very quietly. Nope. It was the next flat up (we were in a narrow building with only one flat per level). I counted 65 steps to the flat. Hopefully, we burned plenty of calories, last week.

On Sunday morning, the 18th, we had planned to head to Windsor Castle. But, since we weren't staying at a hotel and there was no doorman to accept our luggage from the courier, it was necessary to stick pretty close to "home" so we could dash back to the flat if we got a text saying our luggage was on its way. So, instead, we headed for Trafalgar Square and walked through the National Gallery for a bit. Most of Trafalgar Square was roped off for a St. Patrick's Day concert so I wasn't able to get a wide-angle view of Trafalgar, as I'd hoped -- just some side views, as above. That just means we have to return, right? I bought my copy of Fever by Lauren DeStefano in the Waterstone's at Trafalgar Square and husband bought Tea at Fortnum & Mason.

After eating lunch in the National Gallery (museum food is excellent in London), we walked past Charing Cross down to the Thames and across the bridge. We sauntered along the embankment, past the London Eye and enjoyed watching street performers. There was a very happy, celebratory crowd along the embankment, as Sunday was apparently the official day to celebrate St. Patrick's. Like typical tourists, we took a dozen shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as we crossed back over the Thames.

From the embankment, we headed back on the tube to Knightsbridge and went to the Saatchi Gallery, which was recommended to me by a Twitter friend when I asked for recommendations to keep us occupied in the Knightsbridge area. We are officially in love with the Saatchi Gallery. It's a bright, cheerful, funky place. I hope you can enlarge this photo to see the look on the face of the man in the green shirt:

We walked through Partridge's of Sloane Square (a very pretty little grocery store) and sat in the Duke of York Square, watching small children on scooters and enjoying the atmosphere before heading back to the flat for a rest.

In the evening, we took a walk to the Royal Albert Hall to orient ourselves, since we were going to a concert at the Royal Albert, later on. It's a beautiful building, all lit up at night, isn't it?

We discovered we'd taken a longer route than necessary and returned to the flat a different way. Either way, the Royal Albert was just a 15- to 20-minute walk. Not bad at all. On the way back to the flat, we stopped to pick up dinner at a local grocery store.

We've seen the pre-made, easy-cook dinners they carry in English grocery stores, in the past, but haven't stayed in a place with an oven. So, it was really a treat to choose our evening meals, each day. On the first night, we had a lamb pie with squash casserole and salad. The second night, we chose this "Salmon and Brie en Croute," which we paired with a mushroom risotto that was out of this world.

Oh, my goodness that was heavenly. Why don't we have meals that taste home-cooked like this in our grocery stores? It was amazing. For breakfast each day, we had gluten-free meusli with milk from "only pure Jersey or Guernsey cows" and apricot yogurt, most days, which also had me wondering what on earth we do to our American cows. The difference in milk products between here and the UK is astounding.

By the time we'd eaten dinner, we were pretty much wiped out, although it was still fairly early. I read a bit of Kitty Cornered before caving in. I found that I was able to relax and read in the flat in a way that I'm seldom able to do in a hotel room, which was obviously a big bonus! More about our travels in a couple days.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte

Title: Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home by Bob Tarte
Copyright: 2012
Published By: Algonquin Books
Length: 285 pp.
Reason for Reading: I am a cat fanatic and loved the author's first book.

Brief Summary: In the third memoir about his pets, Bob Tarte focuses on the cats that have invaded his home and heart. The Tartes have 6 cats, all of whom were rescued in some way. The author begins by describing a cat who charmed him more than most and then goes back to describe how each of the cats entered his family. Although they have many other pets, the birds take a backseat in this book. But, if you've read either of his other books, you'll appreciate the occasional references to them.

A side note: The author wrote to me and asked if I'd be willing to review this book. I generally try to avoid accepting books directly from authors, but I absolutely loved Enslaved by Ducks and the fact that the book is about cats would have probably been enough to sway me.

What I loved about Kitty Cornered:

I found myself relating to the author's joys and frustrations with cat ownership. The six cats are named Agnes, Frannie, Lucy, Maynard, Moobie and Tina. He talks about their individual personalities, how they interact with each other and how each cat became a part of the family plus loads of anecdotes about how the Tartes have had to alter their lives to fit cats into the equation. In the front of the book, the author has nicely provided a schematic of the main floor of his home that includes labels showing such things as the location of an inconveniently-placed litterbox, the chair that has been commandeered by one of the cats, the stairs where another routinely trips the author, etc.

There is also a "Cats of Characters" list. Haha. There's an example of the author's sense of humor, for you. Since there are so many cats and the house is almost a character in and of itself, both the floor plan and descriptions of the cats are very helpful. I routinely flipped back to remind myself which cat was which, although eventually you do get to know them as individuals and the cast reference is no longer necessary.

Kitty Cornered is heartwarming and lively. The author acknowledges the intelligence of cats and beautifully describes their individual personalities with affection and humor. Although he sometimes longs for them to behave just a little different, he respects their personalities. The story does jump backward in time after describing Frannie's arrival, but it's handled well. By the time you've gotten to know Frannie, you'll be eager to hear how Bob and his wife Linda ended up with so many cats in the first place.

Cat-owner notes:

Our cats have all been rescues. Miss Spooky came from the Humane Society; Sunshine, aka "Shiny", was a stray who was foisted on us by my eldest son's teacher; Fiona was fostered and displayed at a Petsmart (where we like to say she found and adopted us); and, Isabel was dumped outside our veterinary clinic and held for me by one of the vet techs, who knew I wanted a companion for Fiona.

Bob Tarte's cats came to him in similar fashion. One of them was rejected by his owner's boyfriend, which is exactly what happened to Fiona. She was found by a highway, fostered, adopted, unadopted because of a boyfriend, fostered again, and then adopted us. So, it's only natural that I found myself relating to Bob's stories and appreciating his deep compassion for the cats in his life.

What I disliked about Kitty Cornered:

I mentioned in my review of Enslaved by Ducks that the author's sense of humor occasionally got on my nerves. He's a pretty silly guy and writes very much like I used to write (my own sense of humor actually irritates me -- weird, but true). This time, I didn't ever feel like I needed to set the book aside to take a break from it, but I still did find his sense of humor a little overwhelming. That is a very minor complaint, though. The cat stories are too enjoyable to let such a little thing turn me off.

Another frustration -- something that has only become a frustration in recent years -- is the fact that the author's cats are indoor/outdoor pets. Spooky and Sunshine were both allowed outdoors because I was raised with cats that spent a great deal of their time outside. However, Shiny eventually decided the outdoor world was too frightening, while Miss Spooky insisted on outdoor time to the end of her days and was, in fact, injured several times. Spooky's injuries were enough to convince me that cats belong indoors. It didn't occur to me, as a younger pet owner, that cats can be perfectly happy indoors. Now, I'm rather opinionated about the need to keep cats indoors and dogs behind fences for the safety of both.

Update: The author has noted the fact that his cats are now kept indoors, in a comment to this post. Wahoo! I'm very excited about that. Having fallen a little bit in love with his kitties, I'm thrilled to know that they're in a safer place and have adjusted nicely. Thanks for the update, Bob!


4/5 - Recommended especially to cat lovers, people who enjoy reading true tales about animals (pets or otherwise) and folks who like memoirs with a very light, entertaining writing style. Kitty Cornered will be released April 10, 2012.

I missed out on a great cat shot, today. Isabel and Fiona were curled up next to each other on my bed with Izzy's nose tucked under Fi's chin. Unfortunately, if the camera isn't handy there's no way I can capture them in any pose. The moment I rise they're awake and following me. Darn. Fiona at least satisfied my urge to snap by exploring the printer shelf. Good kitty.

©2012 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, March 27, 2012

Vacation purchases

These are most of my vacation book purchases. You might recall that I was on a book-buying ban till vacation. I think I fulfilled my quota, although I didn't find a couple titles I was looking for, which is fine. One of them is The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, which I heard about on Twitter over a month ago. It's apparently already available in the U.S. and I'm still eager to read it, but I've placed myself back on a book-buying ban, indefinitely. I have far too many books to read and need to stop buying them. Vacation was special. Enough for now.


Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper
A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
Manja by Anna Gmeyner
Doreen by Barbara Noble
Consider the Years by Virginia Graham


Tea at Fortnum & Mason
A Fighting Spirit by Paul Burns
Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle for Britain by Joshua Levine
Voices from the Titanic, ed. by Geoff Tibballs
The Great British Book of Baking

Not pictured:

Fever by Lauren DeStefano (which I bought because it was available in paperback in the UK)
Dr. Who: Step Back in Time by Dungworth & Rayner

Oh, sorry. I didn't even mention where we went. We were in London. A tremendous opportunity to stay in the flat of a man my husband works with was offered to us and we jumped at the chance to spend a week in our favorite city with no lodging costs (except, of course, for the thank you gift we left our host). I'll tell you a little bit about each day because it was definitely an interesting trip. We chose the less expensive tickets with 3 legs, each direction, to save a few hundred dollars. That turned out to be a bit of a problem as we didn't have a lot of layover time between our second and third flights and when the first leg was delayed by over an hour, it meant we were going to miss our flight to Boston. Husband ran back and forth, getting the full pat-down in security twice, to make alternative arrangements and we ended up going from Jackson to Atlanta, Atlanta to D.C.'s Dulles and finally Dulles to London via British Airways, rather than our original carrier. We had to hustle through Dulles to catch the international flight.

As it turned out, British Airways was not expecting us and warned that they had to ask permission to board us. We were also told they might possibly not have enough food to feed us meals. Nor would we be able to sit together. No problem, we said. We just wanted to get there. It took them less than 5 minutes to say, "You're fine; still not sure about the food. Here are your new boarding passes." From then on, all was well and we were even fed. Except . . . our luggage didn't make it. More on that, later. I think I'll just share stories here, since I seem to be unable or unwilling to maintain a separate travel blog, at the moment. Obviously I went to Persephone Books:

The photo is out of order, chronologically, but since this post is mostly about the books, I figure it fits. I'll plan on mixing travel stories and book reviews for a while. This blog can stand a change of pace, don't you think?

©2012 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, March 26, 2012

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

Title: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen
Copyright: 2012
Published By: Henry Holt & Co.
Length: 306 pp.
Reason for Reading: Intriguing storyline

Oh, boy. Another rough one. It's been a week since I finished The Land of Decoration and I hoped that letting it roll around in my head a bit would help me sort through my feelings, but I think it's just one of those books that I'm going to have mixed feelings about.

Brief Summary: 10-year-old Judith McPherson is considered weird by her fellow students. She and her father live in an English working-class village where her father works at the local factory and preaches that the "end times" are coming, in his off hours. When not preaching, he is distracted and brusque. Judith is not allowed to do "worldly" things like watch TV or join in on certain group activities at school so she spends much of her time in her bedroom, where she has created her own little world from bits and pieces of trash.

Her life-long immersion in religion and strict family rules sets Judith apart and she is viciously bullied at school yet completely unable to communicate with her father in order to share what's happening to enlist his help. As the book opens, Judith is trying to figure out how she can keep herself from getting dunked in a toilet. When trouble at work sets Judith's father at odds with his co-workers for strike-breaking, he becomes a victim of a different kind of bullying. As their problems escalate, Judith becomes convinced that she has God-given powers and can hear God speak while at the same time her father experiences a dramatic crisis of faith.

The descriptions I've read about this book are very vague and I'm not entirely certain what constitutes "spoiler" territory so I'll just caution you to skip down to the "recommendation" if you're planning to read the book soon or concerned that I might give too much away. I've tried not to write anything spoilery and will certainly not reveal the ending.

What I liked about The Land of Decoration:

I'm not even sure why this is the case but The Land of Decoration is so compelling the pages absolutely flew. It's a little dreamy in writing style. Till the end, I often questioned whether or not Judith was letting her imagination run away with her. Could she really hear God or would making conversation with God a reality change the book from general fiction to paranormal? Was she mentally unbalanced or wildly imaginative? In fiction, of course, anything is possible.

Judith was utterly fascinating and I absolutely had to know what was going to happen to her and her father -- whether the bullies were going to win, the world was really going to end or both of them would end up in restraints in some mental facility. The Land of Decoration is certainly a unique and stunningly gripping story. It is also harrowing, truly one of the most frightening books I've ever read because bullies are all too real and every bit as freakishly dangerous as they're portrayed.

Apart from the fact that the book is a page-turner because of the escalating tension, I did love the fact that the author was willing to portray two people who are deeply religious because I've read far too many books with narrators who are either atheist or agnostic, lately. Sometimes I wonder if so many authors have chosen to make their characters not believe in anything at all because it's the lazy option. Portraying characters with strong beliefs but treating them with respect is a steep challenge in a world where religion is often associated with lack of intelligence.

What I disliked about The Land of Decoration:

Here's the part that I'm concerned might be a bit spoilery.

I'm not so sure she did pull off the "respect" bit. On the one hand, it is perfectly understandable that Judith's father should have a crisis of faith. He is a single father struggling to make ends meet and at work he takes what he considers the only appropriate action -- both in regard to his beliefs and to ensure that his child does not starve -- but doing what he thinks is right becomes so dangerous that there is a point you're not sure either will survive.

Instead of a true relationship with God and a normal, healthy belief set in which God is merely a part of their lives, the religious aspect is way over the top and at the heart of the little family of two is an undercurrent of overwhelming grief. The exaggerated religious immersion makes for an interesting story but it sadly does serve to dismiss the concept of religion as a perfectly normal and ultimately strengthening part of life. The two characters' Christianity is radically, irrationally skewed. That kind of bugged me but I can't say why without spoiling the ending.

On the plus side, The Land of Decoration delves into such touchy territory that it could make for an interesting discussion.


I can't fathom rating this book because my feelings are totally mixed. The Land of Decoration is a unique, enthralling story in which a small family's terror grows to the point that if it were a movie I, for one, would have been covering my eyes. I found it simultaneously impossible to put down and painful to read. At first, I liked the fact that the author was courageous enough to make her characters religious. But, ultimately, I felt a little uncomfortable with the fact that they were so radical that in the end it is implied that in order to become a normal family they had no choice but to drop their beliefs entirely. <---definitely a spoiler. Highlight that part at your own risk. For those who don't want to read the spoiler, I'll just say that I loved and hated the ending.

This is one of those cases in which the word "review" does not fit. "Reader reaction" works. As a work of writing, I thought the book was excellent. Solid, stylish writing, exaggerated but believable characterization and a unique storyline made this an above-average read from a strictly technical standpoint.

In other news:

I had a great week. We were traveling and I may elaborate but I'll save details for another day. I finished three books, last week: The Land of Decoration, Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte and Fever by Lauren DeStefano (which I purchased). Reviews of the latter two are forthcoming. It may take me a while to get back in the swing of things, here. I somehow managed to get another cold (2 colds in 3 weeks!), which is just flat weird. I can't even remember the last time I had a cold, prior to this year. So, I'm not in top form but hope to be back to visiting other bloggers, soon!

How was your week?

©2012 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, March 15, 2012

A hodge-podge of miscellaneous including Fiona Fursday, Alex George and books

This is going to be a wildly disparate bunch of subject matter, but some of you are used to the occasional wacko post. First things first: I got to attend Alex George's signing of A Good American at Lemuria Books in Jackson (aka, "The Big City"), last night. Alex is an excellent speaker and every bit as charming in person as I've found him to be in our Twitter exchanges. I had a great time chatting with him and listening to his reading and discussion about the book.

Kiddo is officially on Spring Break, so this will be my last post for about 10 days. I'm planning to totally walk away from the internet. We'll see if that works. So, it's Fiona Fursday instead of Friday. Here is Fi in front of the shelf I call Grandpa's Shelf (because my grandfather built it):

I shared this photo -- one of my recent favorites -- on Facebook but I don't recall posting it here. It's one worth leaving up for a while. Every time I look at it, I can't help but grin.

And, one flower pic for the road. The wisteria is blooming all over town and it is breathtaking! I managed to spend some time in my church parking lot, beside which there is quite a lot of it growing.

My gerbera daisies are as big as saucers and about 90% of the trees are either budded or in full leaf. I still haven't planted a thing and I keep saying, "Soon, soon," but this may be another one of those years that I'm just too busy with the book purging (which is going very well) and spring cleaning (also plugging right along) to bother with the potted plants. I guess we'll see. I'm very happy with the improvements I've made in our living space, lately.

I've received quite a few books, this past 2 weeks, and I bought more than I should have (including a finished copy of A Good American, of course!) but I'll stick to just those that have arrived in the mail:

Each of the following were accepted for review by request from the author -- something I rarely do, but two of the authors are on my "Any time you ask," list:
  • A Whisper of Rosemary by Colleen Gleason
  • Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls by Gary Buslik - (who managed to seduce me into reading his book by offering to share a photo of his cat, haha)
  • Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte
From Shelf Awareness:
  • Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
  • Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
  • The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin
And, a bunch of children's books from 2 publishers. I'm considering hosting a Children's Week for these, although I usually just mix children's in with everything else:
  • Pobble's Way by Van Booy and Edelson
  • I Always, Always Get My Way by Krasnesky and Parkins
  • I Need My Monster by Noll and McWilliam
  • Zaira and the Dolphins by Pavon and Coco
  • The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer
  • Drops of Life by Tiitinen and Tiitinen
The latter three are translations. I've received a few other titles I haven't mentioned but they went straight into my ARC piles, which are divided by release month, and they will be read so soon that I'm not going to go to the other room to haul them in here to list, although there aren't many. I'm reading one of them, The Land of Decoration by Grace McLeen (interesting book, so far). You can see why I have that note in my sidebar saying I'm not accepting books till further notice.

I wish you all a happy reading week! Again, I plan not to even get on the internet, so if it takes forever for me to approve a comment, don't fret. I'll be back in about 10 days and I always respond.

©2012 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, March 13, 2012

Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events by Kevin Moffett

Oh, boy. This one's going to be very, very difficult to review. Let's start with the technical details, shall we?

Title: Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events by Kevin Moffett
Copyright: 2011
Published By: HarperPerennial - Short Stories
Length: 229 pages
Reason for Reading: It sounded like a fun collection

But, here is where we divert from the recent pattern. I'm not quite sure how to briefly summarize this book. It's a collection of short stories that are remarkable for the way the author throws a dozen balls in the air and keeps them from hitting the floor, if that makes sense. Kevin Moffett is not a name I've heard before; therefore, I can't just assume you're familiar with his peculiar voice so I've dashed off to his website to steal borrow a paragraph about his book:

A dazzling new story collection from brilliant, young, award-winning writer Kevin Moffett, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events illuminates the intimate experiences of characters caught between aspiration and achievement, uncertainty and illumination, inertia and discovery, the past and the future. Channeling unexpected, eclectic voices in a collection perfectly suited to readers of Daniyal Mueenuddin, Alice Sebold, and Dave Eggers, Moffett delivers a nuanced, powerful, humorous, and moving meditation on the trials of transitions and liminal living in today's modern world.

Wow, actually, I'm not even sure what that meant. I haven't read any of the authors mentioned, although I have some Dave Eggers on my shelves. All I can tell you is that Kevin Moffett has a singular style in the vein of, "Oh, my gosh, I would never have thought to put those words together but they work." His stories are stylish. When describing a person who is in a deep, dark place, he still manages to do so with color and humor. When you finish a story, there are so many strands running around in your head, tying themselves into weird knots, that you feel obligated to give the story some room to roll around for a while, till the knots are lined up in a row.

He bought a six-pack of beer and walked back to the trailer as the sun set. The horizon was violently radiant and the wind sung with borrowed nostalgia. It was growing colder. He passed the immense copper pit, a fenced-off canyon of wrecked earth at least a half-mile across, staircased and very still. Tad peered through the fence. The damage looked cataclysmic up close, but seen from space it was nothing. Seen from space it didn't amount to a pinprick. This struck him as a nice, comprehensive thing to realize. He wanted to realize more things like it, but it was getting too cold to concentrate. On the road again, he decided that if anybody asked what he was doing, he'd say, very casually, "Just passing through." But no one did.

~from "First Marriage", p. 94 of Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events

There are 9 stories in Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, including the title story. I enjoyed them all, but I think "Buzzers" is my favorite because it presents a realistic dilemma that I can relate to in some abstract way. I'm going to spoil this one completely, so I'll post a spoiler alert.

*WARNING* Spoiler Alert! In order to share a story, I'm going to potentially ruin it, although I won't tell you the important part (what the protagonist decides). Please skip this part if you're planning to read Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, soon!

Andrew has left the hospital, where his father has been in sharp decline from an unnamed condition. He's on a plane, preparing to travel to Italy to study architecture with a group of other students. When Andrew mentioned that perhaps he should cancel his trip, his father replied, "Over my dead body." And, that statement has just become literal, as Andrew is sitting on the plane at the gate and his mother has just texted him. His father is dead and Andrew is paralyzed. Should he do what's right and exit the plane to be with his mother and sister? Or, should he pretend he's already left the gate, that he didn't receive the text in time?

Andrew is obviously grief-stricken to the point that he can't move. The idea of getting up and asking to wiggle past the woman in the aisle seat, remove his luggage and leave the plane seems like a monstrous effort. The woman in the aisle seat is married to the man in the window seat and their conversation intrudes on his decision. Will he fight overwhelming inertia and get off the plane? Or, will he just sit still and let the decision be made for him?

Having been through a lot of loss, I could easily imagine myself in Andrew's position. What a dilemma, having to choose between returning (the right thing) and being surrounded by the grief of others versus traveling (a learning experience; an escape). Would Andrew's father really have wanted him to leave his mother and sister at such a crucial time?

*End spoiler warning*

The bottom line: 5/5 - Totally mind-blowing writing. I would reread this book right now, if I didn't feel obligated to move on. I love the way this author gracefully tosses puzzle pieces at your head and makes you put out the effort to form the complete picture. If you're not normally a short-story aficionado, it's possible that you'll find these stories a little frustrating. But, they're worth reading, rereading and talking about, in my humble opinion. If you're a writer, you'll want to dissect them, highlight and underscore and take notes. Reading Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events is an experience you'll want to revisit.

©2012 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, March 12, 2012

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Title: Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
Copyright: 2012
Published By: William Morrow - Mystery/Suspense
Length: 358 pages
Reason for Reading: Intriguing premise. Also, I admit the cover sucked me in. I like that cover.

Brief Summary: Chris Lowndes moves from California back to his native England after the death of his wife. After finding out that his new home was held in trust for many years, he becomes curious about its previous owners and why the house was unoccupied for such a long time. When he finds out that former owner Grace Fox allegedly poisoned her husband and was hanged for murder in 1953 then thinks he has seen a woman in the mirror of the room opposite the one he's using, Chris begins to investigate. What kind of person was Grace? How was her trial conducted? What were the circumstances surrounding the event? Was she really guilty of murder?

What I liked about Before the Poison:

Pretty much everything. The questions Chris asks pulled me in and kept the pages turning. You find out early on that Grace had an affair with a younger man, but it's also clear that she was respected and considered a kind, caring person. The book begins by alternating between excerpts about Grace's trial from a book written not too long after Grace's death called Famous Trials and the story of Chris moving into the house, finding out about Grace and then investigating.

Eventually, the investigation is alternated with excerpts from the journal Grace kept during the war years, when she served as a Queen Alexandra's nurse in the the Pacific during WWII. Because the bits in which the protagonist is investigating move rather slowly, the interruptions with excerpts from book and journal broke up the narrative nicely and added a lot of color to the storyline. I have never read anything by Peter Robinson, but it was clear to me that he's an experienced writer. His writing is mature, well-paced and cogent. I absolutely loved the conclusion.

The book mostly takes place in the Yorkshire Dales and I've marked a few things to take notes on because that's an area I'd like to visit, someday. Chris does a little visiting of ancient buildings and also takes guests on a tour to places of interest. If you're thinking about traveling to Yorkshire or have been there, you might enjoy the book for those little tidbits.

What I disliked about Before the Poison:

Nothing, really. The pacing is a little slow, but it works. I anticipated slightly more suspense but I was not disappointed.

Notes on the Category:

I tend to avoid mysteries because I went through a mystery phase that lasted quite a while and I completely burned myself out, so Before the Poison is an unusual read for me. If you're not normally a mystery reader but like to toss one into the mix for a change of pace, now and then, Before the Poison is a good one. I particularly enjoyed reading the fictional Grace's WWII journal as it reveals a great deal about her and I love reading anything and everything set during WWII.


4.5/5 - Highly recommended to mystery/suspense fans and anyone else looking for a very good read. I took off half a point for the unexpectedly slow pace, but I found Before the Poison unusually satisfying.

There was one line I didn't understand. When Chris asked a man named Wilf what happened to Grace's son and finds out he emigrated to Australia, Chris says, "When would this have been?" Wilf's answer was "Late fifties. Ten Pound Poms." I had to look that up.

Ten Pound Poms is, according to Wikipedia, "a colloquial term used in Australia to describe British subjects who migrated to Australia after the Second World War under an assisted passage scheme established and operated by the government of Australia." Interesting.

And another vocabulary word, which is obvious in context but still worth noting:

escritoire - A small writing desk with drawers and compartments.

Sentence: "She used it for sewing and reading and getting away from her husband for a bit of peace and quiet, and she had a lovely antique rolltop walnut escritoire where she used to sit and write her letters."

Kind of a run-on sentence, actually. But, I promise you the book is well-written. I'm pre-posting this as a storm is rolling in, so I'll have to skip adding any fun stuff (flower or cat pics, lists of books that have recently arrived) and save that for another day.

©2012 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, March 11, 2012

The Olive Branch: Red & Yellow's Noisy Night by Josh Selig

Title: The Olive Branch: Red & Yellow's Noisy Night by Josh Selig
Copyright: 2012
Published By: Sterling Children's Books (Ages 4 - 7)
Length: 24 pages
Reason for Reading: Because I'm crazy about children's picture books and Katie at Sterling Children's asked if I'd like to review.
Release Date: April 2012

Brief Summary: Red and Yellow live in the branches of an olive tree. When Yellow's sleep is disturbed by Red playing his strummy, they must find a way to compromise.

Yellow was upset.
"Stop playing your strummy so I can sleep!" said Yellow.
Red was also upset.
"Stop trying to sleep so I can play my strummy!" said Red.
They weren't getting anywhere.

Any mother with more than one child has been there. Two little ones, one is restless and the other is dead tired. Red & Yellow's Noisy Night is perfect for times when children need a reminder of how to get along.

Red began playing
a quieter tune on
his strummy.
Yellow liked it.
Red liked it too.
Then they both had a wonderful idea,
which happens sometimes.
Red played his strummy very sweetly for Yellow. The sounds of
Red's strummy helped Yellow
And everything was good in the Olive Tree again.

As you can see from the excerpt, the storyline in Red & Yellow's Noisy Night is extremely simplistic, probably best for children at the younger end of the spectrum. I'd say it's short enough that Red & Yellow's Noisy Night could easily be read to a 2-year-old. The illustrations are expressive and also quite simple. Red and Yellow are always shown in their olive tree, trying to get along. Sometimes there's a blue sky behind them, sometimes stars. Although Red initially comes up with the idea to play his strummy quietly after listening to the quiet of the night, I like the fact that they resolve their conflict together.

I received my copy of Red & Yellow's Noisy Night for review from Sterling, so I've got a publicity sheet that says the book is based on an animated series. I don't watch much TV, so that's news to me.

Red & Yellow's Noisy Night will be released in April and Sterling Children's Books will also release Red and Yellow plush toys. I skimmed over the material and didn't realize there were going to be toys to go with the book or I'd have asked for a photo. At this point, I can't find any photos of the toys online, but I'll see if I can get my mitts on a picture to share. I know my kids and I would have had fun acting out the story with stuffed critters. I spent at least a dozen years of my life on the floor reading and playing with my two. No wonder my knees are going.


Recommended for children as young as 2 (if they're past the book-shredding stage) and teachers of little ones. Although the book says it's for ages 4-7, I think any small child from about age 2 and up will probably enjoy Red & Yellow's Noisy Night, but I particularly recommend it to parents of more than one child, those who are trying to teach their child to get along with others at preschool/kindergarten and teachers of very young children.

Whenever I review a picture book, I like to find the best possible home for it to go to after I've reviewed and right now it's a toss-up between a friend who is expecting her 4th child and another friend who teaches preschool. Both are in my Bible study class, so I may take it along to this evening's class and see who shows up.

Update for the curious: My copy of Red & Yellow's Noisy Night was claimed by a preschool teacher -- not the one I was thinking of, but another (there are a lot of teachers in my group). She read it, laughed at the cute characters and seemed thrilled to take the book off my hands.

©2012 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, March 10, 2012

Some Recent DNFs and Why I Didn't Finish Reading Them

I've been a fickle reader, lately, so I'd advise anyone who is planning on reading the following titles I didn't finish not to avoid them merely because this reader happened to set them aside. Having said that, I'll tell you why I didn't finish each of these books and how far I managed to read.

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor is a fictionalized account of actress Molly Allgood's affair with playwright John Synge in Ireland, 1907. It is the 1950s and Molly is now an elderly, impoverished alcoholic reflecting on her lost love. The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods.

Ghost Light has a confusing, jumpy beginning but I was very impressed with the writing. After getting to know the characters and setting a little bit, the reading became smoother if a tiny bit tedious and I was enjoying the book. But, then I made a fatal mistake. I looked up John Synge's bio and found him so repulsive that I didn't want to return to the book. I'm still shocked that reading about the actual person turned me off so completely, given the fact that I was definitely enjoying Ghost Light. I don't even know what made him such a turn-off. I managed to read 62 pages.

Will I give Ghost Light a second chance? I haven't decided. If I do, it'll require a little bit of a cooling-off period. I can't say I was in love with the characters anyway, but what a strange reason to set a book aside! I won my copy of Ghost Light in a Picador drawing that I entered via Facebook.

Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream tells the story of a woman who has decided to end her life. She has flushed all of her mood-altering medications down the toilet, fired her assistant, canceled a showing of her artwork and given herself 30 days to wrap up a few important details like finding a new home for her cat.

Ashley Ream's writing is very witty and I thought, "Oh, I'm going to love this book!" when I started reading. But, then I kept picking it up and finding myself drifting off. I think, in this case, it was just a matter of bad timing. I'm in the mood for something meatier. After reading a page or two for about 7 nights in a row, I decided I'd better set Losing Clementine aside for later. I read 48 pages in all.

Will I give Losing Clementine a second chance? Absolutely. I'm still hoping to read it later this month. Losing Clementine was just released on the 6th of March and my copy is an ARC that I received from William Morrow. Clementine is a little bit irritating (she has told her ex-husband she's dying of cancer, which is a pretty nasty thing to do) but I still desire to know what's going to happen to her and I'm convinced that not finishing is just a timing issue.

After I set aside Losing Clementine, I picked up A Light on the Veranda and began reading it. A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware is the story of Daphne Duvallon, a professional musician who returns from New York to the Deep South to attend her brother's wedding. Daphne is from New Orleans but the wedding is to take place at Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. The book says her arrival in Natchez "unlocks waiting forces of a past tragedy" as "her legendary namesake draws her back a hundred years to reveal secrets that can no longer be repressed from a time when the oldest settlement on the Mississippi was in its heyday and vast fortunes were made and lost."

I've read stories with similar storylines and loved them, but I should have known better. A Light on the Veranda is the second book I've set aside because it was written by an author who is obviously not from the Deep South. Note to authors not from the South: If you're uncertain about the dialect, go for subtlety. The sheer quantity of endearments like "sugar", "angel" and "sweetie pie" was unbearable, as were the additions of words like ol' this or that. Example:

"Just dashed out to the Piggly Wiggly, since all I had 'round here were those ol' red beans and rice and half a chicken sandwich. Not exactly fancy fare to serve the bride and groom on the mornin' of their weddin', do you think?"

The accent in this area is pretty strong (Natchez is about 60 miles south of us) but it's not all missing g's, little ole everything and gushy endearments. In addition to the trouble with vernacular, the characters often went into too much detail in conversations, as if the author was determined to inject backstory into the novel to prove she'd done her homework. But, since she managed to call sweet tea "sweetened tea", I think I can safely say she didn't stick around in Natchez long enough to get a genuine feel for the place. I read 55 pages before giving up.

Will I give A Light on the Veranda a second chance? No. I've been in the South way too long to tolerate a poor attempt at Southern vernacular. There are some over-the-top eccentric characters in our area, so I thought some of the characterization was okay in spite of bordering on clownish, and I do believe that a lot of people (particularly romance readers, as there are hints of romance to come) will really enjoy this story. It's just not for me. I think most people around here would say, "Well, she tried, bless her," and send the book to some Yankee they met on vacation. I got my copy from Sourcebooks for review.

I've visited Monmouth Plantation, incidentally. It is beautiful and if you're ever in the mood to tour Southern mansions, Natchez is an excellent place to do so. Look up Natchez's Pilgrimage to find out when the homes are open for touring.

The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs is a book I waited at least a year to acquire via Paperback Swap. I tend to love "year of" this or that memoirs and The Year of Living Biblically is actually the second book of its kind that I've read -- or, in this case, started. The first was about a church group attempting to follow the laws of Leviticus (they failed miserably). The Year of Living Biblically is a similar attempt but with an author trying to do pretty much everything the Bible says he should do, although there's some emphasis on the Old Testament. Much of what he attempted has been abandoned by the contemporary church; often, the author explains the reasons rules have been dropped and whether or not that reasoning is valid. The author is Jewish by heritage but agnostic by choice, mostly because his family was not religious in any way.

Since he has never been a churchgoing man, the author did quite a bit of research and found a few mentors of varying faiths to help him understand the historical and cultural background. There's a biblical rule forbidding the donning of clothing made of mixed fibers, for example, for which the author hired a man who uses a microscope to determine the fibers used (this expert claimed that labels are not always accurate) and explain which fibers specifically were not to be mixed and why.

I was really enjoying The Year of Living Biblically. It's a bit of a learning experience to have someone with no Biblical background dig into the Bible from a totally neutral perspective and explain things through the weight of research rather than a religious viewpoint. The only reason I decided to take it out of my sidebar was the fact that I hadn't touched it in a week. If I let a book sit in my sidebar for too long, I tend to become intimidated and it becomes more and more difficult to return to the reading. Don't ask me why. I sure can't figure out why that happens. At any rate, I stopped at page 92.

Will I give The Year of Living Biblically a second chance? Yes. It may be a couple months before I return to the reading, but I want to finish it.

There have been some other titles I picked up and promptly rejected but I didn't even get far enough into those to be worth mentioning and I have a cold that is totally kicking my butt. I'm going to bed. Will be back tomorrow with a review of a children's book, assuming I can stagger to the computer.

©2012 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, March 09, 2012

Fiona Friday - New lens fun (cats and flowers!)

I got a new lens, this week! While it's mostly for travel, I discovered that the new lens makes capturing both cats at once easy . . . if they're not moving, that is.

Fiona looks completely freaked out. She probably was. I had the camera no more than a foot away from her face.

Chris of Stuff as Dreams are Made On mentioned missing the nature photos I used to post regularly, so I'm tossing in a couple flower photos, today. These are for you, my dear Chris! But, the rest of y'all can enjoy them, too.

Those are all from my yard and I'll toss more into future posts. Happy Friday!

©2012 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, March 06, 2012

By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer

Title: By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer
Copyright: 2012
Published By: Barbour Publishing - Inspirational/Historical Fiction
Length: 319 pp.
Reason for Reading: I enjoy reading about the Titanic; this is my first fictional Titanic tale.

Brief summary: It is 1912 and the Titanic is about to leave for America. Amelia Gladstone and her Aunt Neda have been given tickets by a man with whom Amelia has been corresponding. When Amelia sees two stewards remove Quentin Walpole from their ship as it's being boarded, she takes pity on him and gives him her absentee cousin Henry's ticket. Quentin is a prodigal son who took his inheritance and lost it all. What he doesn't know is that his father and brother are also on the Titanic and his older brother Damien is still angry with Quentin.

When she meets the elder Walpoles, soft-hearted Amelia becomes determined to reunite Quentin with his family but both brothers are trying to woo her at the same time and neither desires to see the other. Will Amelia fall in love with one of the Walpole brothers before she's even met the man who paid for her passage? Can the brothers make their peace so Quentin will be reunited with his heartbroken father? Who will live and who will die when the Titanic goes down?

What I liked about By the Light of the Silvery Moon:

I loved the pairing of the Biblical tale of the Prodigal Son with a light romance and the question of who will survive the capsizing of the Titanic. Since the Titanic is a known equation, the question of whether or not the characters will survive was compelling enough to keep the pages turning. And, I did like the way the author chose to end the story. I think some people might scoff at the convenience of various plot points, but I personally found the conclusion satisfying.

What I disliked about By the Light of the Silvery Moon:

There is a significant weakness to the research in that all of the characters sound fairly modern and American, although many of them are British and the book takes place, of course, in 1912. In addition to the language, hairstyles of adult women are occasionally described as "flowing" rather than pinned up or covered with hats. There are also numerous typos, grammatical errors (particularly mixed tenses within the same sentence), at least one spelling error that jumped out at me enough to mark it, as well as typesetting errors -- for example, in dialogue, when one character speaks and another responds but the response is not placed on a separate line to distinguish between speakers. I got the feeling this book was rushed to press without proper preparation.

Notes on the category:

By the Light of the Silvery Moon is "Inspirational/Christian". I didn't find it particularly preachy, but there were some moments that I think Amelia's internal monologue might qualify as annoyingly self-critical because of her Christianity.


Most of the plot is forwarded by internal motivation; By the Light of the Silvery Moon is character-driven. In general, I tend to dislike character-driven novels but the knowledge that the ship was going to sink really added some momentum to this particular storyline, in my humble opinion. Anyone who knows much about the Titanic will probably be tempted to nit-pick some of the details. I did have to work at shutting off my internal critic. The title does not refer to the phase of the moon at the time of the sinking of the ship but the title of Amelia's favorite song.


3.5/5 - Entertaining but flawed. The pages flew enough that I don't feel comfortable giving By the Light of the Silvery Moon a lower rating although I would call it an average book. I liked the book or I would not have finished reading it. I did, however, find the sheer quantity of errors terribly distracting. The bottom line: Recommended to readers who enjoy a light, romantic tale with a Christian bent. People who are extremely knowledgeable about the language of the time period and details of the Titanic may find the inaccuracies frustrating.

Cover thoughts:

Even though there's an obvious problem with the full moon on the cover (there was no moon visible on the night the Titanic sank), I like the design of the cover a lot. I think it's pretty and appealing.

What's with the new review layout?

Eh, felt like doing something different. What do you think of it? Too stiff? Easier to read what you're interested in and skip the rest?

Where I got this book and why I'm baffled:

I received this book for review but I didn't know it was coming, although I did sign up to try to get in on a tour. I haven't received any messages at all from the network through which I signed up (and it's a lottery, so you don't automatically join in on a tour -- usually, they contact you to let you know if you've been selected). So, I'm going to just post the review and if anyone ever contacts me I'll send them a link! Weird. I think I fell through the cracks.

What else is new?

My blogging breaks are not necessarily exciting. :) In 2011, I got rid of something on the order of 600 books -- I can't remember the number, now, but quite a few. I stalled for a while; it's such an exhausting job and kind of emotional because I'm pretty attached to my books, but it's got to be done. So, this break has been partly a bit of time off to get back into the swing of purging. Since my mother died and we brought home some of her furniture, we have so little living space that something has got to give!

The cats love my computer breaks:

Honestly, they don't like it at all when I sit at the computer typing. Isabel will often curl up behind the monitor and Fiona comes to say hello or lie at my feet during their nap times, but they like my full and undivided attention when they're up and at 'em. So, they've really enjoyed the fact that I'm buzzing around and frequently stopping to play drag-the-string-through-the-house or to roll jingle balls, etc.

Fiona is hilariously personable. If she's sitting somewhere and I walk into the room, she'll often make a little noise of delight and come running to greet me. Isabel is afraid of moving feet but she is making incredible progress at conquering some of her fears and growing more affectionate all the time. She's gone from once-a-day head to tail pettings to dropping by to ask for an ear rub several times a day. She is even rubbing my leg like a normal cat, now!

Why don't you ever mention the kids, anymore?

I miss my kids like crazy, although we do at least get to see the college Kiddo as he dashes in and out between dates on the weekend. I was a stay-at-home mom for many reasons -- not entirely by choice, partly due to circumstance -- and I thought I would be thrilled to finally have the ability to choose how to use my time. But, the empty nest thing has been so much harder than I expected!!! Travel helps. Exercising and being around humans helps. I haven't yet learned how to share newer bits of my life the way I used to talk about my kids, so I'm going through a bit of an awkward phase as a blogger and I really appreciate those of you who have stuck with me as I'm adjusting.

Blogging will continue to be sporadic because this is my busy season -- when the windows can occasionally be thrown open, the gardens need tending (haven't started on that, eeks) and the yard cleared before summer hits. And, wouldn't you know, Huzzybuns and I both have colds. So, we're not too active at the moment. It's really gorgeous outside, when the sun is shining.

I'm also reading quite slowly because I'm keeping myself so busy with chores, but I just finished Before the Poison by Peter Robinson. I hope to review that in the next day or two. We shall see. Happy Reading!

©2012 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, March 02, 2012

Fiona Friday - Where's Izzy?

Isabel really thought she'd found a nice, quiet place to hide for a nap. She wasn't banking on the human finding her and saying, "Peek-a-boo!" But, she's a good sport and stuck her little head out to say "hello".

Reminder: I am going on a blogging break for about a week. Because I moderate comments and plan to avoid the computer as much as possible, it may take a day or two for your comment to show up. But, I will approve comments and reply, eventually.

I leave you with a quote from Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Everything we do is an act of poetry or a painting if we do it with mindfulness. Growing lettuce is poetry. Walking to the supermarket can be a painting.

Have a happy week!

Smiles from Bookfool

©2012 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.