Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway


The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
Copyright 2013
Dutton - Historical-Contemporary Fiction/Time Travel
452 pp.

Going back to my 2007 Q/A format for this review.  I must confess it blows my mind a little to realize just how long I've been doing this blogging thing.

What led you to pick up The River of No Return? It was that beautiful cover (posted by the author, a Twitter friend) that led me to the book's description and from there it went straight onto my wish list.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending: Lord Nicholas Falcott was about to be killed on a battlefield during the Napoleonic War when he was ripped away from the battlefield and lapsed into unconsciousness.  Awakened 200 years later in London hospital, he found that he'd jumped forward in time.  A representative of the Guild, a secret organization of people who have jumped forward on the "River of Time", informs Lord Falcott what's happened to him and then he is spirited to a facility in Brazil, where he is trained to live in the modern world, told where he may and may not go and given plenty of money to start his new life as Nick Davenant.

But a second shadowy organization works in opposition to the Guild and after 10 years of living in the United States, Nick is summoned by the Guild.  He is needed to help find an unknown talisman, figure out what has gone wrong within the time stream of the future and prepare to fight the opposing Ofan.  Back in his own time period, Nick becomes reacquainted with Julia Percy, a neighbor whose grandfather was able to manipulate time.  But, Julia is in danger.  A distant relative has inherited her grandfather's estate, he believes she knows the secret to her grandfather's ability, and he has a dangerous temper.

What did you like most about The River of No Return?  I love time travel, in general, and I was very fond of the two main characters.  It was fun to follow Nick back to his home in Regency England and I liked the slow unfolding of the plot, revealing that something has gone wrong.  I also loved the fact that there were characters who had jumped from a variety of other time periods.  Just getting a glimpse into where they had come from and how they lived was kind of a kick.  There is also an element of romance but it's not dominant, which is how I prefer romance in a book.

Thoughts about the plot:  This is my kind of book.  I love escaping from reality without that escape become so ridiculously far-fetched that it's beyond my grasp.

Share a favorite scene from the book:  My favorite scene is actually a spoiler and I don't want to ruin the read for others so I'll just tell you I really, really enjoyed the scenes that involved the manipulation of time.  I could easily visualize them as movie scenes -- and, in fact, similar has been done but I still think it would be fun to see The River of No Return made into a movie.

In general:  As per my 2007 format, I'm going to rate this book (surprise!).  It's a 4/5, which means I really enjoyed it.  I loved the characterization, found much of the dialogue plausible and entertaining (especially the parts during which Nick confused the modern speech he's practiced for 10 years with his old Regency lingo - some of the Guild's discussions were a yawn) and absolutely loved the paranormal/time travel aspect.

I did, however, come away from the read feeling that it was missing something, but I wasn't sure exactly what, hence the delay in reviewing. I needed to give the "missing something sensation" some thought.  In the end, I decided it was the fact that there was a good bit of telling in regard to the River of Time.  I would have liked to travel in time a bit more, rather than reading Guild talk about the time stream and taking that single jaunt back to the one time period.  That's obviously just a personal preference.  And, there were a few repetitive phrases unique to the author, which I found annoying.  While the ending was not as firmly wrapped up as I like, it wasn't cliff-hangery enough to frustrate me and I will definitely want to read the next book in the series.

My thanks to Bee Ridgway for kindly having her publicist send a replacement copy when the copy sent by a friend was stolen in transit.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Malarkey - Yes, we still have a kitten in the house and other stuff

The kitten is full of malarkey.  She has not yet taken a drink of my tea, but that's not for lack of trying.


This week was not a big week for reading and certainly not one for writing as I went out of my way to avoid the computer (somewhat successfully, although not entirely), but we'll start with what little there is to talk about, book-wise.  Appearances aside, this still is not a cat blog.  

Recent arrivals (2 weeks' worth):

We Go Together by Dunn & Sakamoto and
Rufus Goes to School by Griswell and Gorbachev - both from Sterling Kids for review and/or tour

Rufus is a pig.  PIG BOOK!  Sorry to shout.  Pigs are such fun.  And, a couple more . . . 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - both from Little, Brown and Co. for F2F discussion and review (the former in August, the latter in October). 

We only got 10 copies of each title, this time, and that's not enough to go around -- my F2F group is well-established and quite large, although attendance varies.  So, I had to set aside my plans to reread The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Gaiman to read Burial Rites.  We'll have to share so I wanted to get that done in time to give someone else a chance to read it.  It's excellent, in case you're wondering.  I'm really looking forward to the discussion.

Last week's reading:

As per my plan, I jumped into The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway and enjoyed my swim.  I hope to review that, soon.  I followed it up with a read of the pig book, Rufus Goes to School, pretty much the moment it walked in.  And, then I read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.  After that, I started reading The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan and The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winter.  I'm close to halfway through the latter but not far into The Girls of Atomic City.  I'm enjoying both.  

The Last Policeman is a mystery -- a genre which most of you probably know I seldom read -- but this particular mystery has an unusual twist in that a single policeman (the hero, naturally) suspects murder and everyone else believes the death was a suicide.  Suicide is not particularly surprising or unusual in this story because Earth will be struck by an asteroid in 6 months. Everyone's going to die anyway.  So, a lot of people don't give a flip about the law and some people are choosing to go out sooner rather than wait for the Final Bang.  The Last Policeman is definitely a unique and entertaining diversion and The Girls of Atomic City is fascinating so it's likely I've got a pleasant reading week ahead of me.  


Kitten-wise:

Four weeks and counting.  Last week, we came to the conclusion that we'd done enough kitty juggling and it was time for the cats to spend time working out their differences.  So, Prissy (or River, depending on who you're talking to) has been out and about except at night when she goes back into her bedroom.  Things have not substantially improved, unfortunately.  The kitties can eat together but there's some growling on one side and threatening poses on the other.  The rest of the time, if Isabel's awake there is a great deal of chase/fight/hide going on.  Nap time is awesome.  The little one stays away from the kitty tree, where the two big girls hang out.  I think Isabel does wear herself out chasing poor Prissy/River and is napping a bit more than usual.  

The kitten also has resisted efforts to train her to scratch a cardboard or fabric scratching pad and has pretty much torn the hell out of our living room rug.  So, if she stays, it's likely she'll be the first declawed kitty we've ever owned.  We are against declawing, in general, but she is simply not getting it -- and we have scratching stations literally all over the house.  The other two kitties are very well-behaved when it comes to scratching in the right places.

We will have to make a decision about whether or not we can keep Prissy very soon because she's now about 16 weeks old.  Kittens are very adoptable; older cats are not.  If she's going to another home, she'll need to find a family before she gets too big -- and judging from her appetite, she's likely to be a very large, delightfully droopy cat.  Everyone loves her, so we're all wrestling with the decision but I think we all know in our hearts that it would be best for her to find a different home, if only because Isabel's attitude toward her is not softening.

Not much else is happening, here:

I'm hoping Huzzybuns will soon take a full week off work so we can work day and night getting the old house ready to sell.  Weekends alone are just not enough when you have two houses and yards to maintain and improve.  Everything we're doing is fairly minor but very time-consuming so a dedicated stretch of time would be really helpful.  Please pray or cross your fingers or send positive vibes that we'll quickly finish and get that house on the market . . . and that it will sell.  Although the housing market has improved elsewhere, houses do not appear to be moving at all in Vicksburg at the moment.  

Enough about me:

What's up in your world?  I'm sorry I haven't been able to visit other blogs.  That will probably continue at least until our old house goes on the market.  There's just too much going on.  Today, our excitement of the day was finding out we had a gas leak.  I would not have known, had the gas company not made a mistake on our bill that quadrupled the usual monthly cost.  So, thanks be to God Almighty that we didn't have to get blown up in order to find out about the gas leak.  I've never been so grateful for an erroneous statement in my life.  

Happy Monday!

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Fiona Friday - Prissy vs. Isabel





©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Malarkey - Another kitten update, the books I read, one I set aside and review links


Three weeks of kitten malarkey, and counting.  

We have good days and bad ones, cat-wise.  Yesterday, Isabel kept waking up every time I tried to let the kitten out of her room (Prissy is an energetic little critter and needs space to run and play).  Since I couldn't let her out, I went to her room to keep her company but Prissy kept jumping up on me and biting me.  I finally had to leave.  It's just pent-up energy but I'm not going to sit around getting chewed on.  

Our best day was also one of the worst.  Isabel and Prissy had a little Eskimo kiss (I held Prissy up to let them sniff each other) without Izzy fluffing up or hissing, but later in the day Isabel got fed up and went after Prissy with claws.  Nobody was hurt but it's disappointing that we still have to either stand between the two kitties and prepare to spirit the kitten away if things heat up or only let Prissy out when Isabel's sound asleep. 

This is the look Isabel gets when she's looking down at Prissy from the kitty tree:


I think she makes it pretty clear what she thinks about The Little Invader, don't you?

Reading-wise:

I only read three books, one of which was a children's board book that I'll review eventually.  The other two were Well Wished by Franny Billingsley and Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.  I read 90 pages of Godiva by Nicole Galland before DNF'ing it.  I usually only give a book about 50-75 pages to grab me but in this case I held on a little longer, hoping it would eventually become the book I wanted it to be. After setting Godiva aside, I moved on to The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway and I am absolutely loving it.  

On the blog:

I've posted quite a bit, this past week so I think some links are needed.  Today I reviewed:


Yesterday I wrote three mini-reviews in one post:


My Fiona Friday post showed Isabel and Fiona checking out their new cat carrier.

And, I wrote two reviews on Wednesday:

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy (Favorite Writer alert!) and
Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

That leaves me with only two reviews to go and I want to reread The Ocean at the End of the Lane before reviewing it, so I think I'll take a few days off from the computer to dive deeply into The River of No Return and swim through The Ocean at the End of the Lane a second time before tackling the last of the reviews I need to complete.

One more photo for good measure:


Just after I took this photo, Fiona looked down at Prissy and lazily reached out to her with one paw.  Fiona is completely at ease with the kitten and doesn't even mind if Prissy follows her around.  Isabel often shadows Fiona, as well, so I guess she's used to it.  

Back when I'm done reading books with bodies of water in their title.  Happy Monday!

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad


Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad
Copyright 2013
Grand Central Publishing - Fiction
322 pp.

After a terrible automobile accident leaves Finn's father dead and his mother in a coma, Ana and James become guardians to the 2 1/2-year-old boy.  For years, they'd struggled to have a child of their own.  James, recently laid off from his job, is in his element with the child.  He already knows Finn well and has, in fact, not mentioned to his wife the fact that he's occasionally taken Finn on outings to the park to give Finn's mother, Sarah, a break.  Ana is an entirely different story.  

From the cover:

Suddenly, two people who were struggling to come to terms with childlessness are thrust into the opposite situation--responsible for a small toddler whose mother's survival is in question.  Finn's crash-landing in their tidy, urban lives throws into high relief some troubling truths about their deepest selves, both separately and as a couple.  Several chaotic, poignant, and life-changing weeks as a most unusual family give rise to a seldom asked question: Are all of us cut out to be parents?

My thoughts:

Everybody Has Everything is a well-written book and I cared about the outcome, but I have to admit up front that I found the book uncomfortable reading because Ana was such an unlikable character and James eventually shows his own bad side.  But, I loved the scenes in which James and little Finn interact.  

*****WARNING**** POSSIBLE SPOILER****WARNING*****

I've set this aside as a spoilery paragraph because I'm not certain whether or not it's a spoiler to say that James is actually aching to be a father and Finn's presence is very fulfilling for him but Ana comes off as a cold and terrible person because she is immediately confronted by the fact that having an actual child in her house horrifies her. She's an obsessive-compulsive clean freak and children are messy.  They have toys, their diapers have to be changed, they make messes when they eat.  None of that sits well with Ana and eventually you find out she was never gung-ho about the idea of children, in the first place.

*****END WARNING*****IT'S SAFE, NOW*****END WARNING*****

Although Ana comes off as a terrible person, I think the objective of the book was at least in part to observe the expected role of women as parents and the fact that not every female is necessarily cut out for the job, regardless of continuing societal expectations.  There's also the flip side to that societal expectation: sometimes a man can be more suited to parenthood than a woman.  I think it would have worked a little better if Ana had been a more sympathetic character, and yet I still felt like I understood where the author was coming from.  I was disappointed that James's flaw turned out to be such a naughty one.  Everyone's flawed, of course, but it seemed such a typically male flaw that I felt like it detracted a bit from the story.  There were occasionally times I didn't understand what was happening and it took a while before I realized the book took place in Toronto but those bits only briefly interrupted the flow.

Recommended but not a favorite - A thought-provoking story about parenting in the modern world and societal expectations vs. reality.  I found Everybody Has Everything slightly uncomfortable reading whenever Ana was in the picture, although I loved the scenes between James and Finn.  Ana's such an unlikable character that it's difficult to relate to her enough to understand her perspective -- not every woman deeply desires to be a mother -- and I thought James's flaw (which almost seemed like a plot point and an author intrusion, more than a believable bit of characterization) was a little too cliché, but overall I think the story had the desired effect.  It made me think about parenting and the fact that even in our modern world the expectation of desire for parenthood is skewed.

I signed up to try to get copies of Everybody Has Everything for my F2F group and was sent just the one copy (it took me a few days to respond to the email offering it up for group reading, so I imagine I was just too late).  There's plenty to discuss.  Apart from the topic about societal expectations, there are a few portions of the book that serve as pivotal turning points and one section that is a heart-pounding page turner as well as a glimpse into how we judge others from a distance, all of which are well worth talking about.  So, while I didn't get to discuss Everyone Has Everything with my own group, I do think it would make an interesting group read.

My thanks to Hatchette for the review copy.  

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman


The Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman
Copyright 2013
Lyons Press - Memoir
249 pp.

As a whacky [sic] thank-you for helping me with my courtship, I paste Gerry's photo on a piece of paper in the elevator of our apartment building with the words, HAVE YOU SEEN ME? I'M LOST above his phone number.  It's meant to be nothing more than a clever joke, the landlord calls him, and they have a conversation that the landlord describes as a Laurel and Hardy routine:

"Hello, I've found the guy in the photo."
"What photo?"
"The photo in the elevator."
"There's a photo in the elevator?"
"Yes, it's a photo of you."
"Of me?"
"Yes, you.  Did you know you were lost?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, if you are, I know where you are . . . "

~p. 163, "Love in Boxes"

The Bohemian Love Diaries is the memoir by Slash Coleman that focuses as much on his crazy life as the son of an artist and a Holocaust survivor and an artist in his own right as his love life.  He begins his story with a nutty incident about his dad trying to buy beer after midnight on a Saturday and, actually, the only way to really tell you about it is to pull out an excerpt.  The actual storytelling is much better than any description I can come up with.

My dad stands to one side, shirtless, wearing bleach-spotted jeans with a deerskin loincloth on the front and his Nazi soldier helmet with fake pigtails on his head.  He holds an open can of Schlitz in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth.  With his thick black beard and roadkill clothing he looks like a cross between Ringo Starr and Daniel Boone.

Harvey, with his crazy red hair and greasy face, stands on the other side, the rest of my father's case of Schlitz under his arm, a cigarette also in his mouth.  [. . . ]

As a John Wayne devotee, I know exactly what's going on here.  Neither side is willing to shoot for fear of being shot in return, yet neither side wants to relinquish his weapon for fear that his opponent will shoot.  If my dad attempts to grab the case of beer, the manager may take off running, leaving Rosario free to call the policía--which will put a damper on our trip to Alaska.

I'm not thinking about where my sisters are or where my mom is or how many times I've been in this same exact place before.  For all I know, this is how every seven-year-old kid across American spends Saturday nights with his father, and I'm determined to make the most of it.  

pp. 2-3, "The Great Escape"

The whole book continues in that vein, some of the stories so over-the-top that you know the author is exaggerating at least a little bit for effect, but you're so thoroughly entertained that accuracy of memory is not a concept you want to even approach -- why ruin the fun?  From quirky childhood antics to adulthood spent drifting around in pursuit of art and love (the story about how he went from being "Jeffrey" to "Slash" alone is worth your dime), each chapter is an individually entitled essay that tells a complete story from a particular time in the author's life.  The result is a book that skips over years, where necessary, but is never, ever dull.

This made me laugh:

"That's the way it works in Alaska, Professor," he says. "If you take a piano lesson, you're a pianist. If you have a Band-Aid, you're a doctor." 

p. 117, "Devil Moose"

I've heard similar statements when we've been in Alaska, so I should probably take back that comment about accuracy.

Recommended especially to memoir lovers and people who like reading about an eccentric lifestyle.  Quirky memories of an artistic drifter who just wanted to find love. A bit over-the-top but in a good way.

Cover thoughts:  That cover is a hoot.  And, it definitely fits the tone of the book.  Love it.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A few mini reviews - Behind the Scenes at the Museum by K. Atkinson, Well Wished by F. Billingsley and French Leave by Anna Gavalda


All three of the following books are from my personal library.

Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum tells the story of Ruby Lennox's life from the moment of conception to a time well into her adulthood. But, it's not just about Ruby. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is a family saga that leaps back and forth in time, dashing back to examine how Ruby's family has been fractured by wandering souls and forward to show how the wounds caused by loss and unexplained disappearances, misplaced blame and emotional pain reverberated through several generations.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum is yet another book that does the leapfrogging in time thing, although it's quite different from the historical/contemporary blend with two main characters that's become so common.  Instead, Atkinson leaps from one decade or even century to another and none of the stories are told in a strict timeline sense.  Near the end of the book you find out even the narrator, Ruby, has blocked a critical incident from her memory because it was so painful.

It's tedious wading through detail about one generation of the Lennox family, only to be thrown to another time period and have to reorient yourself to another -- so many characters!  There were several times that I considered closing the book for good because the jumps between time periods were exhausting. And, yet the characterization in Behind the Scenes at the Museum is stunning. When you get to the point that the dots connect, the family members who drifted away are finally explained, the psychic wounds that caused some to be unhappy described you can't help but walk away from the ending thinking Kate Atkinson is one hell of a writer.  

I did, however, get the sense that Atkinson was trying a bit too hard to say, "Look, look how brilliant I am!"  She probably wasn't, but you know how some books come across that way.

Well Wished by Franny Billingsley is a children's fantasy (middle reader).  Nuria lives with her grandfather, whom she calls "the Avy". They live near a beautiful little village with a magical well.  But, wishes made at the village well have to be carefully worded or they can go terribly wrong.  One wish has already caused all but two of the children in the village to disappear.  The Avy has tried to wish the children back and he has forbidden Nuria to ever make a wish.  

Nuria quickly becomes friends with Catty Winter, a child who has been called back by the well.  But, Catty is stuck in a wheelchair after a lengthy illness left her without the use of her legs.  When Catty convinces Nuria to join in on a wish to return her to full health, the wish goes terribly wrong -- and the rules of the well are strict.  A wish can be recanted within a month.  But, if two parties make a wish together, both must agree to undo the wish; and Catty seems unlikely to change her mind.  

The description of Well Wished is a lot more simplistic than the plot. The well itself is a trickster and a series of wishes to undo wishes has created a tangled mess but Nuria is a clever child.  In fact, she's such a witty, inventive child that just reading the dialogue in Well Wished is a delight.  The way everything works out in the end is so brilliant but twisty that at least one adult reviewer at Goodreads said she was confused and couldn't fathom how a child could possibly understand the story.  I can see how someone would have difficulty following the concept.  You have to let go a little and think like a child.  If anything, I think children are more likely to understand the concept in Well Wished than adults.  Well Wished is the third book I've read by Franny Billingsley and it is a wonder.  I've also read and loved Chime and The Folk Keeper.  

French Leave by Anna Gavalda is a short book by the author of one of my long-time favorite short story collections, I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere.  

From Google Books:

Siblings Simon, Garance and Lola flee a dull family wedding to visit brother Vincent, who is working as a guide at a chateau in the heart of the charming Tours countryside.  

Sounds great, but unfortunately the bulk of French Leave describes the drive to the wedding and the escape portion of the book is deeply disappointing.  After some jumpy but very entertaining set-up with great interaction and Garance's reflection on a wild and crazy youth, not much actually happens when the siblings finally gather.  When Simon, Garance and Lola first encounter Vincent, though, it's pretty funny and I think the fact that not much happens is probably the point of French Leave.  Garance has happy memories but she and her siblings are simply not the same people they used to be; adulthood has changed them too much and even happy-go-lucky Garance, the narrator, realizes it's time for her to move on.

Well Wished is my favorite of these three books and the one I'd most highly recommend.  Fantasy is a genre I seldom read because the elaborate worlds and names in many fantasies overwhelm me but so far I have loved everything I've read by Franny Billingsley, although it takes a while before the pictures she paints become clear.  

Behind the Scenes at the Museum has such depth of character and setting that it can become tiresome but in the end it's quite an amazing read so I also recommend it but I'd save it for a time when you're feeling patient and willing to wade through a lot of detail.  Between the characterization and the bouncing back and forth in time, it's a frustrating book but when the pieces start to fall together it's pretty spectacular to look back and realize just what the author has accomplished.

French Leave is okay; I recommend it, but hesitantly.  Too much build-up that leads to nothing, in my humble opinion, although I don't regret the time spent reading.  I liked the first 2/3 or so.  It's unfortunate that the story petered out once the siblings gathered together.  Even if the point is that they've changed, the last portion is such a huge let-down that it colors the entire reading experience.

Wish me luck.  I'm going to do my level best to finish catching up on reviews, this week.  My goal will be to keep things short and incisive.  I am laughing at myself, already. 

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fiona Friday - Checking out the new cat carrier

Also, someone may or may not have been on the verge of a sneak attack on her sister. 


©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy (full review)




The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2013
Harper - Fiction/Literature
224 pp.

It was not Sébastien's France then, not a country of brioche and endless school, trips to the windy beach with the caravan in summer--but a country of mud, and women in aprons watching the giant skeletons pass above, spitting bullets into the guts of other skeletons.

Children then must have stood around in puddles wondering when their parents would come home, looking up at the sky for metal drops, or down at themselves in the gray water.  They were barefoot and thin. Sébastien has seen it on television.  And his grandmother has told him.

Sébastien feels what he has never experienced: houses on fire, dogs barking at people trying to hide. He has seen pictures in books too.  He knows something happened long ago--something bad. He can see it in the eyes of the children who live in the pages.

~pp. 44-45 

The impact was so intense that John mistook his panic for death itself. Smoke and freezing air filled the cabin. The B-24 nosed into a dive. He formed a ladder with the syllables of his wife's name. Each syllable a rung closer to her, but further from God.

~p. 89

Briefly, in my words:

Martin's adoption is a shadowy story; he owes his life to the compassion of others.

Mr. Hugo's childhood was a horror and he became a brute, but when he was called on to act out of kindness to save a single life, he made the right choice.  Later, his patience teaching young Danny would become a turning point in the child's life.

John loved deeply but thought his time was up when his WWII bomber plunged from the sky. Near death with the enemy pressed against him, he would make a surprising choice.

Sébastien discovered a black and white photograph in the skeleton of a burned plane. Kept in his possession till adulthood, the photograph would make its way to a special place.

Amelia's blindness couldn't keep her from seeing in her own way.  But, what she really wanted was to find love.

Separate people, separate lives - or so it appears.  But Martin, Mr. Hugo, Danny, John, Sébastien and Amelia's lives are interconnected and much of what happens in the book would not have occurred, if not for two acts of kindness.  Separateness, it seems, is just an illusion.

My wording is way different from the cover blurb.  I'm not sure I felt there was a point at which the "veil was lifted" to reveal the way their lives intersected to the individuals, as stated on the cover. Maybe I need to read The Illusion of Separateness a third time.  Silly statement.  Of course I'll read it a third time.  I always return to Simon's books.

What I loved about The Illusion of Separateness:

This is the second time I've read Simon Van Booy's latest release. During the reread, I took notes and drew arrows to remind myself how the characters were interconnected (which I'm going out of my way not to share because that's part of the joy of the book, discovering how the individuals are connected).  For some reason, writing it all down enabled me to look at the reading with an objectivity that I lacked on the first time through.

And, I'm pleased to say that I was even more astonished by the skill of Simon's writing, the sheer beauty and elegance, the stunning way he drew the portraits of a number of people individually, gradually revealing the ways in which their lives intersected.  Good Lord, that man can write.  There is such a gorgeous rhythm and warmth to his stories.  I felt that way the first time I read his work and I am still completely gobsmacked by the pure poetry and the way Simon doesn't shrink from the harsh side of life but puts a spotlight on the positives to being human, in this case the little acts of kindness and how they reverberate through generations.

What I disliked about The Illusion of Separateness:

On the first reading, I had a little difficulty getting into the book (probably due to fatigue) and then thought the ending was a tiny bit abrupt before I realized the stories had, in fact, been perfectly wrapped up. I was simply jolted by the fact that it was over.  I would have happily kept reading for another 700 pages if Simon had kept on writing. The second time, taking notes clarified the interconnections and made the perfection of the ending point clear to me.  In other words, I really didn't dislike anything at all.

Off the wall:

There's a touch of spirituality that I don't recall in Simon's previous books.  I'm going to add a quote from 2 paragraphs above the spiritual bit, simply because it's a lovely sentence:

Anyone who is desperate or alone will agree there is comfort in routine. [. . . ]

I liked mornings there.  I felt light. I glanced up even--to Him.  I  talked quietly to Him. I felt Him listening.  Lost my way, I told Him. But He knows. Was there when it happened.

~p. 109

And, now, having copied that quote I just noticed that God is mentioned in one of John's passages, above.  

An incidental digression:

Part of the time I was reading and taking notes I had a kitten attacking my pen, which I thought was entirely apropos because kittens are small, furry bundles of joy and Simon's writing is always, always uplifting.

The bottom line:

Highly recommended - A stunningly complex yet simply beautiful story in which the author weaves individual stories together to illuminate the small yet strikingly meaningful ways in which humans are interconnected.

I blasted my way through The Illusion of Separateness, the first time.  I always get completely swept up in the beauty of Simon's writing that the story itself can take second place in the reading process and that was definitely the case with The Illusion of Separateness.  Taking notes helped me get a better understanding of the interconnections and the meaning, although this YouTube video of Simon talking about The Illusion of Separateness is also helpful.  

Cover thoughts:

I like the simplicity and I love the color.  The finished copy has an interesting metallic sheen that is absolutely beautiful.  At some point, I recall seeing a different cover option that I also liked.  I think I saved it.  Wait here.  I'll go look.

Yep, here 'tis:


Now that I think about it, I'm unsure whether the image above was an alternative that was considered for the U.S. publication or perhaps one that will be used elsewhere, but I love it because it's clearly a WWII photo.  Black and white photos from that time period are always favorites of mine.

Source:  I received an ARC from HarperCollins and then purchased a finished copy. Quotes are from the finished publication.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt


Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
Copyright 2013
Algonquin Books - Fiction
359 pp.

He thought of how weird it was that when people left, the world didn't come spilling in to fill up the hole where they had been, the empty space just stayed there.   
~p. 59

Is This Tomorrow is one of the books that I've been hesitating to review because it's so good I felt (and still feel) powerless to describe its pull.  But, I'll try.

Ava is divorced, living in the shabbiest house on her block and having to endure the neighborhood gossip about her.  Being Jewish and divorced in the 1950s is not easy (and it doesn't help that she's beautiful), but she works hard and is pleased that she can to afford to rent a house at all, even if money is always tight.  Her ex is threatening to sue for custody of their son, Lewis, using her string of boyfriends as an excuse.  Lewis is her world. What can she do to stop the man who left them from gaining custody?

Lewis believes someday his father will return for him.  He has two close friends: Jimmy and Rose, a brother and sister living across the street.  When Jimmy disappears, it will change everyone's lives forever, especially those of Lewis and Rose.  What happened to Jimmy?  And, where is Lewis's father?  Will he ever return?

I read Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt in 2011 and when I saw that Algonquin Books was set to release another book by Caroline Leavitt, I was thrilled.  Algonquin occasionally sends ARCs and I hoped a copy would arrive on my doorstep. It didn't, but that had to do with our mail thief; I was told it should show up any day when I expressed concern and then eventually I gave up.  A letter from Algonquin about another book that went missing led me to write back to let the Algonquin publicist know I hadn't received anything in ages.  I was sent replacements of Good Kings Bad Kings and Is This Tomorrow, shortly after, via UPS.

What I completely forgot was that I stayed up all night reading Pictures of You.  I was immediately sucked in by Is This Tomorrow and then I remembered . . . oh, no.  I should have started early and cleared my day.  I managed to stop myself about 1/3 of the way into the book, the first night, and then the next night was hopeless.  Another reading hangover, thanks to Caroline Leavitt.  I could not put that book down -- and then I couldn't get it out of my head.  Lewis and Rose are characters that sink into your heart and stay there.

I didn't fully understand Ava, but I could relate to her as an Outsider trying to fit in.

Highly, highly recommended - A practically perfect novel.  Great characters, wonderful story, and a touch of mystery that tugs on you so hard you can't put the book down are combined with exceptional writing.  Leavitt breaks your heart but then leaves you with a sparkling ray of hope.  It took days to get the characters out of my head and that was mostly by force; they're still milling around in my mind a bit, just not to the point that I can no longer pick up another book. Is This Tomorrow is a book that is not to be missed, one of my Top 5 in 2013. Okay, wait, no.  It's my #1, at this point.  And, I've read some fabulous books.  Be sure to set aside a time to read Is This Tomorrow when you can get away with reading a book from cover to cover.

Many, many thanks to Algonquin for replacing the copy that disappeared in the mail.  

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Malarkey - A confused bird, stuff I've done, books that walked in and links to reviews

Since Monday's theme is malarkey, let's get off on the right foot:



Today's malarkey has been brought to you by an addled grosbeak.  Or, maybe there was water pooling on the hummingbird feeder. Only the grosbeak knows.

I just broke up the beginnings of a cat fight:

Things were going so well, today!  I managed to hold Prissy within a few feet of Isabel without even a tail-fluffing!  But, then Prissy pranced around the breakfast nook for about an hour, Isabel finished her bathroom window nap and Izzy surprised me by hissing and leaping at poor Prissy while my back was turned.  I calmed the baby and put her back in her room.  She was happy for me to close the door, for once -- no mad dash to escape.  On the plus side, Izzy appears to be all bluster.  She didn't touch the kitten; she just looked like a crazed, hissing fur snowball.  The cat dynamics are totally fascinating, around here.

Recent arrivals . . . and just so you know, I've put plenty in the "get rid of" bag ('cause this looks bad, again):

From publishers:

  • Comet's Tale by Steven D. Wolf with Lynette Padwa from Algonquin Books, unsolicited.  I've read and reviewed Comet's Tale (dash over there via the link in the title) and I loved it.  It must have just come out in paperback.  This is the first Algonquin Book that has arrived safely (apart from the two they shipped UPS) since our mail thief attacked.  So excited that an Algonquin parcel finally arrived!!!
  • The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey from HarperCollins - This was either a mistake on HarperCollins' part or I hit the wrong button on the request form.  Hard to say which, but it's a book and I will read it, although it doesn't interest me as much as the book I meant to request: The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen.  
From friends:
  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
  • The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
  • The Last Newspaperman by Mark Di Ionno
  • The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
  • Fuse by Julianna Baggott
This weekend . . . 

. . . was a busy one.  Husband worked on putting a drawer in the empty space where there used to be a small oven in our old house (we went from double oven to single, 2 years ago).  Then, we took down the remainder of Diseased Tree #1 at the new house (can't even bear to think about DT #2, yet) with the help of our delightful neighbor and his chainsaw.  The rest of the day was spent doing light chores and watching North by Northwest to recover.  The next day we did laundry and tackled moving boxes that still needed to be emptied, as well as (ohmygosh, the agony) matching an entire laundry basket full of socks.  Gah.  I did manage to match quite a few but I think we'll end up throwing away a lot of single socks, soon.

We watched Much Ado About Nothing (the Kenneth Branagh version) at some point and then I continued matching socks because, really, there were that many and watched all 3 episodes of Under the Dome while Huzzybuns avoided the room.  I can't say I loved it.  I'm finding Under the Dome cheesier than expected.  Also, if I could ask a favor, I'd like the writers to miraculously discover a handsome hero. The best-looking actor was already killed off and I could stand a break from sinister Junior, the annoying councilman, the deceitful minister and . . . okay, yeah, the killer is good-looking. But, he's a murderer, damn it!

I've done a lot of posting in the past few days:

Fiona Friday - Two Weeks is an update on the kitten and cats, and 

I've posted 4 reviews in a mad attempt to catch up with myself:


I hope to continue this trend. 


Happy Monday!

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

To Be a Cat by Matt Haig



To Be a Cat by Matt Haig
Copyright 2012
Corgi (a division of Random House) - Children's Fantasy/Middle Reader
312 pp.

From the cover:

What if I told you that tomorrow you'd wake up as a cat?  That's right.  You heard me. A cat.  Whiskers, fur, four paws, a tail -- the real deal.  You might not believe me.  But really, you should be thanking me.  Most people don't have any kind of warning, you see.  It comes as a complete shock to them.  It came as a shock to Barney Willow.

My little synopsis:

Barney Willow isn't very confident.  The kids pick on him at school and the head teacher seems to have a vendetta against him, though he can't say why.  His parents are divorced and his father has disappeared.  The only real light in his life is his best friend, Rissa. 

What Barney doesn't realize is that cats are magic.  And, when you wish to be a cat, you can trade places with one.  After Barney becomes a cat, he discovers something much more sinister is going on than just a simple magic bit of switcheroo.  Can Barney stay alive long enough to become human, again?  

Best opening, ever:

Here is a secret I shouldn't really tell you, but I will because I just can't help it.  It's too big.  Too good. OK, sit down, get ready, brace yourself, have some emergency chocolate handy.  Squeeze a big cushion.  Here it is: 
Cats are magic. 
~p. 1

The first chapter had me laughing out loud and it stays funny but it's equal parts humorous and creepy. As books for young readers go, To Be a Cat is awfully entertaining.  I read it in two big gulps.  Matt Haig has a delicious sense of humor and the story is unique enough to keep surprising even an adult.  

Highly recommended - A delightful story with a likable young hero, a quirky sidekick, a nicely sinister arch enemy and a clever storyline.  I learned about Matt Haig via Twitter (where he is one of my tweeps) and decided to start with a children's book about a cat for obvious reasons (Crazy Cat Lady alert).  

Good choice and now I'm anxious to read The Humans, Haig's latest adult novel.  In fact, I regret not picking up a copy in London.  It has a beautiful British cover but the American cover is hideous.  I can't imagine why they went with that image.  Wait, I'll show you:



American cover at left.

British cover at right.

Colorful vs. . . . what?  Were they going for "striking"?  A gorgeous, colorful cover is much more likely to grab my attention.  I came perilously close to buying it but restrained myself because it was a hardback and I try to shoot for buying only paperbacks when I travel. But, now I really want a copy.  I'm just going to have to go back to London. That's all there is to it.

I purchased my copy of To Be a Cat at Foyle's (the flagship store on Charing Cross Road -- go there if you're ever in London; you'll love it).  

Also, if you have experienced depression or know someone who is suffering, you must read Matt Haig's "Reasons to Stay Alive", which is very inspiring.  

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann


Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann
Copyright 2013
Touchstone - Fiction/Historical-contemporary mix
396 pp., incl. black and white photos

When Amanda Rosenbloom goes to a dying elderly lady's home to purchase the woman's vintage clothing for her store, Astor Place Vintage, she is surprised to find a journal hidden in a fur muff.  Amanda sneaks the journal into her purse and as she reads, discovers the surprising life of Olive Westcott.  Olive moved to Manhattan in 1907 to pursue a career as a store buyer.  But, gaining experience and reaching a goal as a single woman was not so simple 100 years ago.  

As she reads Olive's story, Amanda can't help but find connections between herself and Olive. Will the journal of a long-dead woman help Amanda break away from an unhealthy relationship after years of relying upon her married boyfriend's money to keep her store afloat?  If so, how will she survive without his help?

I had a terrible time getting into Astor Place Vintage but sometimes when a book is not clicking for me I'll go read reviews to see if there's something I'm missing.  In this case, it was Jennifer's review of Astor Place Vintage that helped me to look at the story from a different perspective.  I returned to the book and enjoyed it.  In fact, the end was so very satisfying I'm relieved that she stopped me from giving up.  Typically, I quickly became tired of the leaps back and forth from one character to the other and found them confusing until Jennifer noted some aspects of the historical character's life that helped me to untangle them. 

What I particularly loved about Astor Place Vintage was the peek into life as a single, working woman who knows what she wants but has huge challenges barring her way.  And, as Jennifer noted, it was very interesting seeing what it was like just to be a woman, in general, during that time period. 

Recommended - While Astor Place Vintage is not a personal favorite, partly because I'm quite weary of books that alternate between two lives every other chapter -- and I did find that I preferred the historical storyline -- Astor Place Vintage is a very good story that was extremely satisfying, in the end.  There are black and white photos of Manhattan in Olive's time period interspersed throughout the book.  I love old photos and they added nicely to the story as they spotlight areas of significance which are helpful for visualizing Olive's world.  

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing the review copy and to Jennifer for saving me from ditching a book that turned out to be a very good read.  


©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.