Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd
Copyright 2013
William Morrow - Historical Fiction/Mystery
343 pp.

It's probably a very bad idea to start reading a mystery series so late in the game.  Proof of Guilt is apparently #14 in the Ian Rutledge series.  I used to read out of order all the time, back when I was a regular mystery reader, though; and, I wanted to give mother-son writing team Charles Todd a second chance after the disappointment of The Walnut Tree (which I still believe was simply rushed to press without a decent attempt at editing).

Proof of Guilt is a bit twisty without every becoming an utterly confusing story.  It is 1920.  A body has been discovered but the man appears not to have died at the location where he was discovered. Tucked inside the coat is a very distinctive and obviously expensive watch.  There's no identification on the body and when Inspector Rutledge takes the watch to a jeweler, he finds that it is, indeed, an expensive family heirloom.  However, the body in question is not that of the watch owner and the man who does own the watch is missing.

There are a lot of things going on in Proof of Guilt.  There is a new man in charge and Rutledge doesn't have a great deal of respect for him.  There is a body, a missing man, a broken engagement, a connection to Spain and another body that doesn't appear to have any relation to the story in question until late in the book.  Inspector Rutledge may be a continuing character but near as I can tell, not many years can have passed during the scope of this series.  He served in WWI and suffers from PTSD, the ghost of a man he was forced to shoot for insubordination still haunting him, the claustrophobia and the occasional shaking/sweating episode ever-present.  Having perused reviews of a few earlier books (I chose to avoid reading any reviews of Proof of Guilt so that my feelings about it would remain untouched), I can see that not much has changed.

And, therein the problem lies.  There was just something missing from this book.  Well, several somethings, actually.  First, there are loads of characters without apparent distinguishing characteristics. Hamish, the man who haunts Rutledge, is well-described (at least, inasmuch as the reason the inspector is haunted) but the vast majority of the men Rutledge works with are not.  So, they all tend to blur together.  It's hard to determine who they all are and their working relationships with Rutledge. But, in fact, Rutledge also doesn't seem to want to have much to do with anyone but his sister -- and she only shows up briefly.  So, the book is strongly lacking in emotion and meaningful interaction.  It's all mystery and little heart, in other words.

As to the mystery itself, I found it convoluted enough that it wasn't completely predictable.  There were scenes that I found transparent but the ending itself surprised me.  Would it have surprised me if I was a regular mystery reader?  I can't say.

Here's how I felt about the book, as the reading progressed:

Beginning:  Meh.  Having trouble getting into it.  Seemed like there was a lot of uncomfortable pummeling with questions but otherwise the dialogue was stilted and unrealistic. Nice light reading, though; apart from dialogue, the writing was smooth.
About 1/3 in:  Still no grip on any of the secondary characters but I was becoming accustomed to the rhythm of the story and not tempted to set the book aside.  Definitely better-edited than The Walnut Tree.
Halfway:  Too many characters and no idea where the hell the plot was going.  Also, were inspectors at Scotland Yard really that incompetent?  The thought processes of various people investigating seemed quite off to me.
80-90% in:  There were at least 5 characters whose last names began with the letter "B".  Keeping names easily distinguishable by using different letters is a basic of writing.  I was kind of stunned.  But, I was really enjoying the story, by this point, and just kept flipping back to try to keep the characters straight.
90% in:  Seriously?  Did they arrest people and threaten to hang them without even discovering the body of a missing person?  Still curious what would happen, though.
Ending:  Totally pissed off.  There was an answer to the mystery but no wrap-up.  The book simply ended . . . and, in fact, there was even a line to tease the reader into buying the next book.  At 80-95% in, I was beginning to rethink my aversion to mysteries and considering reading more by Charles Todd.  The ending blew that concept out of the water.  I cannot bear being teased by an author.  That is it for me.  No more Charles Todd books.

Having said all that, I did enjoy this book.  It took some time and I never felt emotionally invested in the story, but had the book been properly wrapped up I would have loved it.  It went from being a 4.5-star book at about 90% (in spite of many problems) to a 3-star because of the way it ended.  That's a pretty huge deduction for a crummy ending, but that's how I felt when I closed the book.

Recommended only to regular mystery readers who enjoy this author's writing.  A decent mystery but the lackluster characterization and a terrible ending ruined this book for me.

My thanks to TLC Tours for the advance reader's edition of Proof of Guilt.  I am glad I gave this author a second chance, regardless of how I felt upon closing the book.

©2013 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, January 29, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen 
Copyright 2012
Bethany House - Historical Fiction/Regency 
409 pp.

The Tutor's Daughter is a novel set in Regency England, on the Cornish coast, and I think it was probably the setting that drew my interest when I read about it.  Wow, great choice, by far one of the most engrossing, entertaining books I've read, so far this year!


Emma Smallwood's father, a tutor, has slowly lost interest in life since the death of his wife, two years past.  With his small boarding school now trickling down to nothing, Emma is concerned and takes it upon herself to write to Sir Giles Weston.  His two eldest sons attended her father's school but the younger ones have not.  Perhaps he would be interested in sending the twins?

Sir Giles responds with an offer to pay Mr. Smallwood twice his normal fee if he'll move into Ebbington Manor to teach his youngest sons for a year.  Miss Smallwood is invited, as well.  Eager for a change of pace, Mr. Smallwood accepts.

But, strange things are afoot at the manor on the cliff.  Everyone seems to have a secret and mysterious happenings are a part of daily life.  Is a ghost playing the pianoforte at night?  Why isn't Emma allowed into the North wing of the manor?  Who is sneaking into her bedroom, stealing things and leaving frightening messages?  Is that shifty man who occasionally appears at the home a wrecker who watches men die on the rocks then sells their possessions?

Questions, questions.  And, I haven't even addressed the main characters.  Emma and two of the sons, Henry and Phillip, seem to be involved in a love triangle. But, maybe not.  What about the Weston's ward, Lizzie?  Who is she in love with and what is she hiding?  And, ugh, the nasty stepmother who wants to marry off Henry or Phillip to her wealthy friend's eligible daughter!

What I loved about The Tutor's Daughter:

Things happen.  Lots of things happen.  But The Tutor's Daughter is not only plot heavy but also has beautifully developed characters that you'll either love or love to hate and they don't all turn out to be quite what they seem.  There are some truly exciting moments.  Danger!  Action!  The setting in Cornwall is likely the same area you read about in some of Daphne DuMaurier's books, like Jamaica Inn, a dangerous coastline notorious for causing shipwrecks and where "wreckers" would lurk to claim goods from the ships as they washed to shore.

The romance in this novel, such as it is, develops slowly and realistically.  There's the usual, "But, she can't possibly end up with either of the brothers because she's nothing but a lowly tutor's daughter!"  We all know how that always ends, but . . . well, let's just say this is my first book by Julie Klassen but it will definitely not be my last.  I was so impressed.  There are plenty of little twists and turns and surprises.

I think it's worth mentioning that Emma also has a crisis of faith.  One of the characters gets a tiny bit preachy with Emma, but he's genuine about his beliefs and if The Tutor's Daughter didn't happen to be a Bethany House novel, I don't think I'd have given it much thought.  I'm always looking for the God references in Christian publications because I know some people get freaked about about them.  I didn't personally find the Christian aspect dominant although, as I said, the one character does have his moments of preachiness. They tend to occur at times that reflection on faith is common.

What I disliked about The Tutor's Daughter:

I have absolutely nothing to criticize, although a couple Americanisms did manage to sneak into the narrative.  Just a couple.  In general, the dialogue and writing was otherwise utterly convincing - among the best I've read.  I don't think I can take off even a fraction of a point for such slight errors.

The Bottom Line:

5/5 - Highly, Enthusiastically Recommended - A delightful, adventurous, romantic, sometimes creepy, often sweet and refreshingly clean tale with highly-developed characterization, believable dialogue, a rocking fine setting that is well-described, and an extraordinarily satisfying conclusion.

My thanks to Christen at Litfuse for the review copy.

©2013 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, January 28, 2013

Monday Malarkey - On the Road Again

We did yet another quick up-and-back trip to Oxford and Memphis, this weekend.  I would have insisted on skipping Memphis entirely but delightful author Alex George renewed our determination to find an international grocery store because . . . remember that Jamie Oliver book I got?  Jamie's Food Revolution?  Mr. Oliver uses a lot of chiles and spices that are not quite as common as he must imagine.  We can find some of what we need, but we've been having a heck of a time finding variety and had pretty much given up the search. But, we decided to check out an international grocery store in Memphis after Alex posted a photo of the chiles he'd purchased, nudging us into continuing our search.  Thanks, Alex.

We didn't just buy peppers, but aren't they pretty?  We got spices, sushi rice and wrappers, watercress and bok choy, Japanese pickles (the kind that are eaten with rice), Asian eggplant, a papaya and a coconut . . . oh, did we have fun!  Too bad Memphis isn't just a tiny bit closer . . . like an hour away rather than 4.  We also spotted some beautiful, lacy clouds.  I can't bear to crop this picture:

There was a full moon, this weekend, but cloud cover kept me from doing my full moon photography assignment.  Fortunately, we just happened to arrive in Water Valley during Blue Hour.

Blue Hour photography is so fun!  I wish I'd learned about it 20 years ago.

Book-wise, I've been reading the same book all weekend:  The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen, an exceptionally well-written Regency romance from Bethany House.  There's so much happening in this book -- a little love triangle, a great setting (the coast of Cornwall), some spooky happenings, a perky "ward", a nasty stepmother.  Totally captivating writing.

Recent Arrivals:

  • Lonely Planet British Columbia & the Canadian Rockies and
  • Lonely Planet Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest - both purchased for vacation planning
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - received a box of 15 books for my F2F Book Group to read from Hatchette (I've read a little bit and I can tell it's going to be a fascinating read). We'll discuss Life After Life at our February meeting. Everyone's jazzed, so it should be fun.
  • Wooby and Peep by Liu & Peterson - unsolicited from Sterling Children's and already read; will do a Children's Day post in the next couple of weeks.
  • The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin - via Paperback Swap

That's about all that's going on in my world.  No malarkey.  Well, not much, anyway.

©2013 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, January 27, 2013

News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

I'm going to default to the publisher's description to begin this review, since I think it's very well done.

From the cover:

Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania -- the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh's award-winning bestseller Baker Towers -- News from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become.

Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community, from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century.  Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments.  A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City.  A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming.  A woman must come to terms with heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret.

I'm not going to copy the entire cover blurb because I think that gives you enough of an idea what News from Heaven is about.  I haven't read a lot of collections in which the stories are connected in some manner, so I can't really generalize about them but I really enjoyed News from Heaven.  As in any story collection, I had personal favorites.  Although the connection can often be very thin between the stories, I was pleased that one of my favorites -- set in WWII -- was revisited in one of the later stories through a relative of one of the characters.

The thing I most loved about News from Heaven was the fact that they were so realistic.  While I was reading, I felt that this could happen to anyone sensation.  The emotions, the settings, the characters . . . they all have the ring of truth.  In fact, they often reminded me of some of my own experiences to the point that I felt like running for a pen and paper to write down the memories that Haigh's stories jogged.

I've got a copy of Baker Towers and hope to read it very soon.  I will definitely also re-read News from Heaven, at some point.  I often revisit favorite short stories and there were plenty that I thought were worth returning to.

4/5 - Recommended. A nice collection with believable and realistic characterization and settings, some more enjoyable than others.

©2013 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, January 26, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I tried to write a mini review of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the fact is . . . I love it too much.  Once started, I couldn't shut up about it and felt obliged to add a number of favorite passages.  So, here 'tis.  Not mini, after all.  

Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear and vivid and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute.  Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?
~p. 21, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde has been lingering on my shelves for quite a while. You can see from the image of my copy that it's not a book I bought new.  More than likely, I paid a quarter for it at the library sale during the time that I was collecting any and every classic title I could find.  At any rate, I'm now knocking my head against the wall, wondering why I waited so long to read Dorian Gray

I'm sure you all know the premise:  Dorian Gray is a man who is physically beautiful and sits, or poses, for a painter friend, Basil, on a regular basis.  Basil is a rather mild fellow who is friends with Lord Henry, a man who seems to take great joy in his own dissipation. Basil doesn't take him seriously and that is probably why they're able to remain friends.  When Lord Henry becomes acquainted with Dorian Gray, his influence is unfortunately very, very bad.  Henry likes to rattle on about how one must try everything and live life as art.  "Art for the sake of art" was apparently a mode of thought that Wilde was into at the time of its writing.  

As he's being introduced to the concept of living life any way he chooses rather than a life of restraint, Dorian Gray also realizes that he will lose his beauty with age and makes a wish that Basil's most perfect portrait of him might age while Dorian retains his youthful beauty.  The wish comes true, Dorian doesn't age but as he slowly becomes more and more base, the painting shows the physical changes and even personifies the evil of his character.  Dorian keeps the painting hidden away, his dangerous secret, but as he sinks lower -- corrupting women, throwing himself into gambling, drugs and drink -- and the painting grows uglier, eventually Dorian Gray will murder to save his secret.  

One of my Goodreads friends described the writing of Dorian Gray as "too frufruey" and I can see where she's coming from.  There's definitely a heaviness to his prose that is very much of the times.  Some passages bored me just a tad.  But, there's a great deal of Wilde's natural wit, the story is such a brilliant idea (I'll bet many, many people wish they'd thought of that, first) and the ending absolutely knocked my socks off.  I gave it 5 stars, in the end.  In fact, I'd already realized I'll want to reread The Picture of Dorian Gray by the time I'd hit about page 20.  

This passage made me laugh:
"We practical men like to see things, not to read about them.  The Americans are an extremely interesting people.  They are absolutely reasonable.  I think that is their distinguishing characteristic.  Yes, Mr. Erskine, an absolutely reasonable people.  I assure you there is no nonsense about the Americans." 
"How dreadful!" cried Lord Henry. "I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable.  There is something unfair about its use.  It is hitting below the intellect."
~p. 41

I can pretty much assure you the British aren't sitting around talking about how reasonable Americans are, these days.  

And, another favorite excerpt, this time an exchange between a Duchess and Lord Henry:

       "Decay fascinates me more."
         "What of Art?" she asked.
        "It is a malady."
        "An illusion."
        "The fashionable substitute for Belief."
        "You are a skeptic."
        "Never!  Skepticism is the beginning of Faith."
        "What are you?"
        "To define is to limit."
        "Give me a clue."
        "Threads snap.  You would lose your way in the labyrinth."
        "You bewilder me. Let us talk of something else."
        "Our host is a delightful topic. Years ago he was christened Prince Charming."
        "Ah! Don't remind me of that," cried Dorian Gray.
        "Our host is rather horrid this evening," answered the Duchess, coloring.  "I believe he thinks that Monmouth married me on purely scientific principles as the best specimen he could find of a modern butterfly."
        "Well, I hope he won't stick pins into you, Duchess," laughed Dorian Gray.
        "Oh! My maid does that already, Mr. Gray, when she is annoyed with me."

~p. 205

I love the Duchess.  When she and Lord Henry get wound up, they are a riot.  

The bottom line:

Highly recommended.  Wonderful writing, a classic full of wit, humor and decadence with a brilliant plot and a knock-out ending.  It's no wonder this classic has survived and thrived on many must-read lists.  Also . . . it's truly creepy, so definitely another good one for the R.I.P. Challenge, if you haven't read it, already.

Originally published in 1890, my copy was printed in 1983.

©2013 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, January 25, 2013

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean and a Fiona Friday photo

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean was one of those wonderful books that taught me something new about a favorite time period and also kept the pages turning, so I really was looking forward to reading The Mirrored World by the same author, even though the time period is completely different.

Xenia is one of the Patron Saints of St. Petersburg.  The story of how she went from a adventurous child to happily married woman to crazy widow giving away all her worldly goods and finally a pauper living in the streets is told from the point of view of a cousin whose family took her family in after a fire.  

I'd never heard of Xenia and I always choose not to read the cover blurb at the time I pick up a book because cover blurbs often contain spoilers and have ruined plenty of reads, over the years.  Unfortunately, I had a great deal of difficulty figuring out what was going on in The Mirrored World. Initially, I felt that the story of Xenia was lacking in a concrete sense of time and place -- and kind of weird, to boot.

My refusal to read cover blurbs when I settle down to read was, for once, a very big problem. I probably overlooked the location, St. Petersburg, because I was so baffled by the royalty. Eventually, I gave up and read the cover blurb because I still wasn't feeling it and the sensation was, "I. Am. Lost."  Reading the cover blurb helped, although I will say that The Mirrored World was never a book that grabbed me and would not let go.

Debra Dean's writing is pretty, if a bit overwrought, although judging from her acknowledgements, that's just her personal style. The sense of time and place improved marginally as the book progressed and I did learn something new, but as I'm sitting here with the book at my side, my overwhelming sensation is, "Meh." Not a book I'd highly recommend. Not a total waste of time, but I'm glad it was fairly short.

3.5/5 - Above average but not great.  

And, now . . . a Fiona Friday pic that actually shows Fiona!  It's not a very exciting photo, a  shot of Fiona looking out the back door on the day we got snow.  But, lately, that seems to be about as good as it gets.  Fi has been running from the camera.   

The good news is that she's been every bit as hilarious and fun to be around, whether or not she's willing to pose. Last night, Isabel was marching through the kitchen with her favorite hoodie string in her mouth and Fiona grabbed the other end.  After a brief tug-of-war, Isabel won that battle.  It was particularly funny when Izzy realized there was something holding back her string and turned around with a  "What the heck?" look on her face.

Another great moment occurred on Sunday when Husband and I were watching Downton Abbey.  When we moved into our house, the cats couldn't open the cabinet doors at all.  Not so, anymore.  We were sitting on the sofa, cats happily playing chase in the background, when Fiona burst into the living room, opened one of the entertainment center doors with a single swipe of her paw and dived in.  What a riot!

In other news:

I'm taking an online photography course and loving it.  But, boy, does it eat a lot of my time. I'm not a technical person, by nature, so I have to read very slowly and stop to let things sink in.  Read a little, practice a little, read a little more.  Difficult as I'm finding it, I am absolutely having a blast.   What's up in your world?

©2013 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, January 22, 2013

Mini reviews - Titanic Remembered by Alan Ruffman, Wall and Piece by Banksy and An Unexpected Angel by Janet K. Halling

Time for a few more quickie reviews.  All of the following were recently added to my home library.

Titanic Remembered:  The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax by Alan Ruffman is the official guide and souvenir book from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.  I haven't been there; it's just one of those books that popped up in the recommendations at Paperback Swap when I was looking up other Titanic titles, last year.  Because it's a guide book, Titanic Remembered is quite thin at 70 pages but I must say I was totally impressed.  Titanic Remembered is loaded with photographs and tells the story of the Titanic from the Halifax, Nova Scotia end of the story.  
Since Halifax is the place from which recovery ships were sent and where the bodies were buried (those that weren't buried at sea, that is), a good portion is about the process of recovery, identification and burial of bodies.  It was a lot more complex than I'd ever considered.  There are some interesting stories about individuals, both among the perished and survivors (not necessarily the most commonly described victims and survivors) and a few unique tidbits about the collection of souvenirs by those involved in the recovery efforts, as well as a few illicit photos.  Photos of bodies and/or the unloading of them was strictly forbidden but people are sneaky devils.

I found Titanic Remembered surprisingly gripping and the book definitely piqued my interest in the maritime museum.  Highly recommended to those who are not squeamish.  There are a couple photos of dead bodies . . . only a couple.  

Wall and Piece by Banksy was a gift to myself -- you know, one of those cases of, "Three gifts ordered and one tossed in the cart for myself."  For those who are unfamiliar with Banksy, he's a "street artist" from England who uses pre-made templates to quickly paint his works of art on various walls, bridges, billboards and other surfaces.  Since graffiti is considered an eyesore and is often illegal, most of his artwork has been quickly washed away.  I thought it would be fun to get a book of photographs of Banksy's art -- and it is definitely art, not just a bunch of messy fat lettering, like you often see under bridges and on the sides of trains.
Since this is a book written by Banksy, there is also some text.  Unfortunately, the text doesn't lend a lot of insight into the artist and/or reveal context for the vast majority of the paintings.  However, there was enough to satisfy me.  I don't necessarily agree with Banksy's philosophy that if someone advertises it's a one-way street and people have the right to respond (by painting a response directly on the billboard), but I learned a little about why he paints certain images like rats and some of the meaning behind the themes in his artwork.  As the title indicates with a cute bit of word play, he heavily emphasizes war and peace.   Occasionally, I didn't get what he was trying to say and those were the times I yearned for a bit more text to explain what Banksy was attempting to portray.  But, in general, I loved Wall and Piece.  If you're a Banksy fan, Wall and Piece is worth owning.  Highly recommended with a warning that those who are picky about grammar may occasionally cringe.

Quote on the back of the book:  "There's no way you're going to get a quote from us to use on your book cover."  -- Metropolitan Police spokesperson

An Unexpected Angel by Janet K. Halling is a drawing win from Holly at 2 Kids and Tired Books.  It's a Christmas book that plays on the Dickens classic, "A Christmas Carol" and the movie It's a Wonderful Life.  

Ellie hates everything about Christmas.  After working late on Christmas Eve, she stops to pick up some groceries and snaps at the clerk who attempts to engage her in conversation.  She's not interested in talking.  She just wants to be alone.  

But, the clerk turns out to be an angel with an unexpected surprise in store for Ellie.  Instead of the quiet Christmas Eve she's become accustomed to, she is tossed into the past.  Ellie doesn't stay in one time period.  Just as events begin to resolve and her purpose clarifies, she's yanked from one time period and flung into another.  You never know where Ellie will end up next and the reasons she's tossed about don't fully come together until the end, although it's made clear, early on, that Ellie's hatred of Christmas and drive are related to a tragedy in her past.  

I absolutely loved An Unexpected Angel.  When I first began the reading, I thought it was going to be a typical, sappy Christmas story, but that thought only lasted a handful of pages.  While the theme was common, I absolutely loved the sensation that one was traveling through time in An Unexpected Angel and I found the resolution deeply meaningful.  One for the keeper shelves, a lovely little Christmas story with heart.  Keep tissues handy when you read this one.  Highly recommended

I gave all three of these books 5 stars at Goodreads. 

On an unrelated note:  I have no idea how to resolve the problem with those huge gaps between paragraphs of text, one of the new problems with the updated Blogger interface.  There are simply times I cannot remove air space, even by going into HTML mode, where it ought to be apparent that there's a large gap.  If you're aware of a solution, please let me know!

©2013 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, January 21, 2013

Monday Malarkey - Maybe things will get back to normal, now

Totally for fun:  A shot of Isabel sitting in the window on our snow day.  I thought the light behind her created a lovely, soft effect.  

Believe it or not, this is my first post since Kiddo returned to school from Christmas break.  Seriously, school is just beginning tomorrow! Hopefully, that means blogging and blog-hopping will get back to their regular pace.  We tagged along behind Kiddo, this weekend, to help him move back to Oxford with one brief stop in Water Valley, MS:

We went to The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery because Huzzybuns read about it in Food & Wine magazine.  It's the kind of place you go when you want food fresh from the farm and we emerged with cream, milk, freshly-baked bread and some gorgeous strawberries.  The milk was from Billy Ray's Farm.  This might not mean much to anyone who hasn't read the late Larry Brown, but Larry wrote a book of essays entitled Billy Ray's Farm.  At the time the book was published, Billy Ray was still working on fulfilling his farming dream.  It's been quite a while since I read the book but I loved it. I thought of Larry Brown as kind of an "Everyman Mississippi" and just walking out the door with a glass bottle of milk from his son's farm was a kick.

After stopping at Kiddo's apartment, we dashed off for what was intended to be a quick trip to Memphis that became a little bit of a nightmare.  Our first stop was no big deal, a road block to check validity of drivers' licenses.  Mine is all in order and the highway patrolman thanked me politely and said, "Drive carefully."  So, it was a pleasant road block, as road blocks go.  But, after we finished up at our destination (the Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma outlet stores), we had a little trouble getting out of Memphis.  Five patrol cars with flashing lights passed us and a million FedEx trucks that were stopped on the same route south (Memphis being a major distribution hub) before Huz decided perhaps The Wife was right and opted to go the long way around.

The other route, as it turned out, was also backed up but at least traffic was moving.  There was a point that we started to theorize about why everyone was trying to leave Memphis and nobody was succeeding. Had the plague arrived? Was the zombie apocalypse beginning? Did the ghost of Elvis head back to Mississippi?  At any rate, it was a long day but we arrived home safely with a new end table from the West Elm portion of the Pottery Barn outlet store and the next day I bought a lamp. So, now I have a nice, new reading corner.

It looks better with coffee on the coaster and a pile of books next to the lamp.  I tossed some change in the bowl and Isabel promptly showed up to check out the table and play with the coins.  This may have just become one of my all-time favorite cat photos:

You're probably wondering when I'll mention reading, at this point. Now is the time. As you can see from my sidebar, I'm way behind on reviewing. Again. Hopefully, not having family around will help me knock out some reviews, this week.  I've read 12 books, so far, in 2013 -- 16 if you count the 4 children's books I stopped to read as I was sorting through old children's books to purge.  January is always my best month and then the number I read per month tends to drop off until July or August -- always my low point because the heat makes everything slow down.  I'm currently reading The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.  It's an ARC and the release date is February, so even though it was sent by a friend rather than the publisher, I thought it would be fun to read and review before everyone starts talking about it. 

Three books arrived, this week:

Well Wished by Franny Billingsley from Paperback Swap
Firefly Island by Lisa Wingate for tour
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James for review

I am waiting on two other books, one for tour and one for my book group to share (I'm receiving quite a few copies and they've already all been claimed -- our group leader had to create a first-come, first-served list).  They seem to be taking their sweet time arriving and I confess I'm getting a little anxious about them.  One of them is due for tour in 9 days but it's not here yet.  The box of books for my book club will need to be distributed for February discussion.  I hope neither has been lost in the mail.  I'll let you know what happens.

UPDATE:  The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen has arrived!  Woot!  It's the book I'm to tour on the 29th.  

I missed the presidential inauguration, today, so I'm off to read a transcript of Obama's speech.  I've heard it was uplifting.  Happy Monday, MLK, Jr. Day and Inauguration Day!  Even if you're not from the U.S., at least one of those works.

©2013 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, January 18, 2013

Fiona Friday - What the Cat Saw

Yesterday, Izzy was fascinated with what happened outdoors.  So were the rest of us.

Snow!  It had completely melted, not long after noon, but we got 2"!  Excitement!

©2013 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, January 17, 2013

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

Oh, boy.  This one is going to be rough.  I think I'll let a coffee mug interview me.  Sound good?  I haven't been interviewed in a while.

WARNING:  I've tried to keep this interview as spoiler-free as possible, but if you want this book to be totally surprising or plan to read The Promise of Stardust right away, I'd advise you to skip down to the bottom line.  Sometimes I screw up and give things away, in spite of good intentions.  This part's probably not a spoiler:

Coffee Mug:  What is The Promise of Stardust about?

Bookfool:  The Promise of Stardust is about a moral dilemma -- to remove from life support or not?  When neurologist Matt Beaulieu is called to the emergency room after his wife Elle has fallen and hit her head, he knows immediately that she is never coming back; she is brain dead.  Elle's mother was obviously in terrible pain, even when comatose, as she lay slowly dying, and Elle has always made it clear to friends and family that she absolutely does not want to be kept alive in a comatose state.

BUT . . . Here's where it starts to get potentially spoilery.  Skip this bit if you're nervous that I'll say something I shouldn't!  I'll let you know when it's safe to come out from under the table.

CM:  Why does Matt choose to leave Elle on life support?  What's the dilemma?

BF:  Elle is pregnant; without pregnancy, there would be no question about how to proceed. Matt understands his wife's instructions but knowing, as a neurologist, that she is brain dead and can feel no pain, he feels that she would want to be kept alive to give her unborn child a chance.  She's had numerous miscarriages and one stillbirth.  The chances that her body will continue to function till delivery are stacked against the baby's survival.  And, yet, Elle desperately wanted a baby, so Matt believes it's important to attempt to keep her alive long enough to deliver.

CM:  So . . . okay.  Matt is the husband.  What's the problem?

BF:  Just about everyone disagrees with Matt.  His mother, her brother, Matt's family, Elle's former boyfriend . . . everyone but Elle's father.  And, Matt's mother takes legal action to have her removed from life support.  Matt's mother is in possession of Elle's advanced medical directive.  But, is it still valid?  Does Matt have any say in what happens to his unborn child?

CM:  What makes this book resonate with you, as a reader?

BF:  My father died of the latent effects of a head injury and was removed from life support.  I can relate to this kind of tragedy.

CM:  Whose side were you on?

BF:  I thought Elle would want to be kept alive, but only because of her unborn child and her lack of pain.  It does enter into the bounds of the whole "personhood" controversy, about which I have mixed feelings.

CM:  Are you going to tell us how the court case and/or dilemma was resolved?

BF:  Of course not!  You really have to read the book, yourself.  Even if you're a coffee mug, I suggest bringing tissues along to the reading of this book.

END WARNING!  It's safe to emerge from your closet, or whatever.  The rest is just my opinion.

CM:  The bottom line?

BF:  Highly recommended.  I loved The Promise of Stardust.  It is a thought-provoking book worth talking about.  The dilemma is obviously a controversial one in many ways, but . . . I wanted to talk to someone about it.  I think it would make a terrific book club read.

CM:  What book do you recommend reading in tandem with The Promise of Stardust if you're in the mood to generate a really noisy discussion?

BF:  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan would be a great book to discuss with The Promise of Stardust -- that is, if your reading group can handle controversy.  My group is very enthusiastic and sometimes they'll just holler right over each other.  I don't know what would happen with the abortion/life support topic, but I think it would be interesting to pair the two books for discussion.

CM:  Dude.

BF:  Sweet.

CM:  I have to go, now.  I have coffee duty.  But, speaking of mugs . . . shall I pose?

BF:  Another time, but thanks for the offer.  I think a photo of someone mugging for the camera sounds ideal:

©2013 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, January 16, 2013

Recent Arrivals at the Home of a Book Glutton

Since I took a lengthy holiday break and I have a tendency to move my books from room to room, I've got a couple photos of arrivals and I'll just list the rest of the books that have arrived -- those I can remember, that is.  

Top to bottom:

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick - Unsolicited from Algonquin Books (read and reviewed in 2012)
Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick - from Sourcebooks for review
Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres - library sale purchase
A Rather Lovely Inheritance by C. A. Belmond - library sale purchase
Three Came Home by Agnes Newton Keith - library sale purchase
Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd - from TLC Tours for review
Fly Now! by Joanne Gernstein London - library sale purchase

Here's a shot of the cover of Heading Out to Wonderful (paperback release).  What do you think?  I love the paperback cover!

And, another stack:

Top to bottom:

Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson - from swap with friends
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt - from swap with friends
The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin - sent by my delightful friend Paula
Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga - purchased for an F2F group meeting that I'll miss . . . oh, well
The Bronte Sisters by Catherine Reef - from swap with friends
Things We Couldn't Say by Diet Eman and James Schaap - purchased for F2F group read
Day After Night by Anita Diamant - from swap with friends

Not pictured (will review those I've already finished, ASAP):

Firefly Island by Lisa Wingate (just arrived, today) - from Bethany House for tour (link leads to Publisher's Weekly review)
Coventry by Helen Humphreys - from swap with friends, already read
An Unexpected Angel by Janet H. Halling - drawing win from Holly at 2 Kids and Tired Books, already read
The Dalai Lama's Cat by David Michie - purchased after reading Jenclair's enthusiastic review, already read
Wall and Piece by Banksy - gift to self for Christmas, already read
The India Fan by Victoria Holt - from Sourcebooks for review
Titanic Remembered: The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax by Alan Ruffman - via Paperback Swap, already read

I hope that's everything!

©2013 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, January 14, 2013

More minis - The Folk Keeper by F. Billingsley, Poison Study by M. Snyder and The Garden of Happy Endings by B. O'Neal

Once again, these are mini reviews of books that came from my personal library.

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley was my last book read in 2012.  After reading the neurotic cat humor book that I found somewhat less than humorous, I felt like I needed to quickly read something I loved to end my year.  I figured that The Folk Keeper was a good bet, since Chime by Franny Billingsley was one of my favorite books in 2011.  

The style in both books is very similar; both are fantasy and in both cases, Billingsley doles out clues slowly and sparingly so that it takes a while to figure out where you are and what's going on . . . but in a good way.  You know how sometimes it can be terribly frustrating to have an author keep too many secrets from you, but at other times it feels more like a mystery is slowly unfolding and it's more of an adventure?  The Folk Keeper was the latter.

I am so impressed with Franny Billingsley.  The Folk Keeper is a middle-reader about a girl masquerading as a boy to get the job of Folk Keeper -- a person who keeps the harmful Folk at bay.  Taken from the foundling home by a dying Lord, she is transported to a manor where she will continue her job as Folk Keeper in the cellar.  But, there are new dangers near the seaside and there is much that Corin/Corinna doesn't know about herself.  Scary and original enough to compete with a Gaiman, with a bit of magic and even a tiny touch of romance.

Highly recommended - a dark, mysterious, atmospheric book, beautifully written and deliciously creepy.  The Folk Keeper was the perfect read to end 2012 and would make an absolutely wonderful read for the annual R.I.P. Challenge.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder is actually Kiddo's book.  I noticed Snyder has a more recent series and since Kiddo has read two of her series and enjoyed them, I bought him the two newer titles for Christmas then asked if I could read one.  Instead, Kiddo shoved Poison Study into my hands.  Here's what Isabel has to say about Poison Study:


Obviously, she missed some key discussion points.  Poison Study is about Yelena, a woman who is reprieved from a death sentence for murder when there's an opening for the job of food taster to the Commander of Ixia.  Not only must Yelena take her chances with the potential for poisoning (because there is no escape), she must also keep her eyes out for the people who want to kill her for the murder she committed.  Plus, she's got a little bit of a magic problem -- a touch of magic in a place where magical ability alone is a death sentence -- and she's haunted by the ghost of the man she killed, a very nasty man who deserved to die.  Just so you know Yelena is a cool chick.

There were things I disliked about the world of Poison Study, but once I became accustomed to it I loved the story, even though I thought it bore some similarities to the only Snyder novels I've read: Inside Out and Outside In.  A super-tough heroine who sometimes doubts her own strengths and abilities and gets beat up quite a bit, plus a very evil bad guy and at least one character who is not what he or she seems were the common denominators I recognized.  Regardless, I loved Poison Study and actually had a little trouble switching gears when I picked up the next book.  Poison Study was my first read in 2013.

Highly recommended - A very entertaining read with numerous dilemmas, a touch of magic and an action-heavy plot.

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal is a book I won in a drawing, last year, after a friend's gushy recommendation just happened to coincide with a blog drawing.

In The Garden of Happy Endings, minister Elsa's world is rocked when a young girl from her church is murdered.  Unable to help her church family through their grief because she is having her own crisis of faith, Elsa leaves Seattle to spend time with her sister, Tamsin, and her former fiancee, Joaquin (aka, "Father Jack") in Pueblo, Colorado.

In Pueblo, Elsa stays busy helping build a neighborhood garden and serving in Father Jack's soup kitchen while helping her sister through a crisis of her own.  There are a lot of personal crises in The Garden of Happy Endings, some really scary trouble with gang members, a few poignant moments with parishioners and a bit of a romance.

I liked The Garden of Happy Endings but I didn't love it and I can't quite put a finger on why. There was just something about the writing style that bothered me a bit, I suppose, or perhaps it was a little too predictable.  Regardless, The Garden of Happy Endings is an engrossing story that explores some deep topics and which contains a surprising amount of conflict of both the internal and external varieties -- stuff happens, in other words, and yet there is a nice balance of darkness and light.  While the book addresses God and faith, it's not a preachy book.

Recommended - A nice, light read about life, love and faith that is very difficult to put down. I'd recommend The Garden of Happy Endings for beach reading.

In other news:

  • We went to Les Miserables for the second time, this weekend, and loved it just as much on the second viewing as the first.  I really, really need to read the book.  But, mostly I just walk past my copy and sigh.  
  • I read about a study in which diet soda was implicated for causing higher incidences of depression in regular drinkers.  Huh.  In the same study, they found that regular coffee drinking reduces depression.  So, I bought a coffee maker.  I need all the help I can get. 
  • I've photographed some recent arrivals but a "book box" has just arrived at my house, so I've got a few more to snap.  I'm in an online group that holds group swaps, you see.  We just pass a box around.  Each person removes a few books and replaces those removed with an equal or greater number of books -- usually ARCs, but not always.  Fun!
  • Isabel got her shots recently.  She weighs 9.1 pounds.  That makes her the smallest cat I have ever been owned by.  I was wondering if Vans (she's a rescue and obviously not a breed but a distant relative of the long-haired Turkish Van) are unusually intelligent because she is also the smartest cat I've ever owned. So I read up a bit and, sure enough, she fits the description perfectly.  Vans love water, are very energetic explorers, play hard and sleep hard, are people cats and are fiercely intelligent.  One of Isabel's favorite games keeps me running to change her water frequently.  She likes to drop her dry cereal in the water bowl, just so she can fish it back out.  
  •  It's cold and rainy, perfect reading weather. Happy Monday!

©2013 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, January 11, 2013

Fiona Friday: Ever get the feeling your sister is up to something?

©2013 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, January 09, 2013

Minis! Lucy by Ellen Feldman, How to Live with a Neurotic Cat by S. Baker and Letter from New York by Helene Hanff

One of my goals for 2013 (which I haven't bothered to write about -- just don't feel like writing down my goals, this year) is to attempt to keep my reviews short so I won't spend so much time online. Boy, did I fail on that count with House of Earth!  But, I feel a little more comfortable with brevity when I read off my own shelves, for some reason, so the following are mini reviews of books from my own shelves.

Lucy by Ellen Feldman is a fictionalized account of the love affair between Lucy Mercer and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I must have had my head in the mud because I'd never heard of Lucy Mercer till recently but I love reading about Roosevelt and my interest was piqued when my friend Paula read Lucy.  She very kindly sent me her copy (so it wasn't on my shelf for long).  

I was terribly impressed with Lucy.  It's told from Lucy's point of view and is quite believable for historical fiction about real-life characters in my opinion, possibly at least in part because the author took her time describing how the relationship developed.  But, the writing also was very well done.  I've read two books by Ellen Feldman, now, and I found Lucy much more sharply drawn, the characters very well-rounded.  There were only a couple moments when I thought she drove home a point a little too fiercely and pulled me out of the story.

The author's note describes her use of letters and other documents and all indications lead to the thought that she did a rocking fine job of research.  Highly recommended.  Lucy was published in 2003 by W. W. Norton & Co. 

How to Live with a Neurotic Cat by Stephen Baker is supposed to be humorous, but it didn't play on my own cats' idiosyncracies. I think we can all agree that they're pretty unusual animals.  They're extremely active, even though they're now 4 and 3 years old, and they come running when I call them by name (unless they're deep in the midst of a nap).  They have been trained to use cardboard and carpet-covered cat scratching surfaces, so they don't rip into the furniture.  And, in the book there was absolutely nothing about cats knocking things off dressers.  Isabel is big into "Knock It Off the Dresser," (usually around 4:00 AM) "Knock it Into the Bathtub" and other similar games.  

I read How to Live with a Neurotic Cat because it's been on my shelves for eons and it's short.  I figured it would be a good book to read quickly and donate.  A friend of mine who has more cats than I do loved How to Live with a Neurotic Cat.  I gave it 2 stars and had to quickly gobble down another short book to cleanse my palette, I disliked it so much.  But, like I said, I think that's got something to do with the fact that my cats are so unique. They're really both more dog than cat, in many ways.  

I love this review of How to Live with a Neurotic Cat at Cinamaetcetera. I think it's a little more fair than what I have to say about the book, a 1985 publication of Gramercy Books (a Random House imprint).  Heh, told you it's been around a while, although I think mine was a reprint and didn't linger that long.

I got my copy of Letter from New York by Helene Hanff after reading 84, Charing Cross Road.  It took a while to acquire this book and another title of hers, since I opted to get them via Paperback Swap, and then probably at least 2-3 years for me to get around to reading Letter from New York.

As you can see from the subtitle at the bottom, "Letter from New York" was a radio spot on the BBC Woman's Hour Broadcasts during which Helene spoke about life in New York.  I think it was broadcast monthly, although I neglected to take notes.  Letter from New York is a collection of all of the writings she could find from her days in radio.  A few went missing.

I absolutely loved this book.  Her writings were just stories from everyday life and, as such, painted an intriguing capsule portrait of life in New York City in the 1970s.  Over the 6 years of her writings, things changed.  A garden that was abandoned for lack of funds was brought back to life by volunteer effort, Christmas concerts that had been free for decades began to cost money, dogs died and new ones were adopted.  Helene Hanff was dog crazy and I absolutely love her stories about the dogs in her building.  Letter from New York is, like her better-known 84, Charing Cross Road, the kind of book that you close thinking, "I'll want to return to this world, some time in the future." 

Highly recommended.  A pleasant afternoon or evening read, quick enough to zip through but enjoyable enough to savor.

And, since I've admitted I'm old because I very well could have bought that neurotic cat book in 1985, although I'm almost positive I didn't, a peek into ancient history . . . 

That's a photo I found tucked into my baby book, during the holiday break.  I am on the right, kissing big sis goodbye on her first day of "big girl school".  I don't have to confess the year, but you can probably figure it out or at least come close.  I was 4 years old; she was 6.  It always irritated her that I was never that far behind her in height.  And, of course, I had great hair.  Haha.  

©2013 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.