Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash - a very casual review and photos of Wiley's reading at Square Books

First things first . . . it's been almost a month since I read This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash. That can be a very, very bad thing but today I was hanging with my best friend and told her about how much I loved This Dark Road to Mercy -- so much that when I found out Wiley Cash was going to stop at Square Books in Oxford (2 1/2 hours north of us) and I didn't see Lemuria (20 minutes away) on his tour list, I planned a jaunt north.  That's unusual, in case you're wondering.  

So, naturally, Best Buddy asked me what the book is about.  I told her it's about 2 girls who are sent to a home when their mother dies. Their daddy, who signed away all rights to them, wants them back but the law is against him so he kidnaps them. But, daddy Wade has done something exceptionally stupid. He's stolen some money and a Very Bad Man is after him. I told her the pages flew because of the tension.  Will the Bad Man get them or will they survive? Will Easter and Ruby end up with their father or back in foster care?  I didn't tell her about the baseball setting, nor did I mention what I loved most about the book -- the way the author brought back an element from the first of the book near the end, lending the story an unusual symmetry that made me actually suck in my breath -- but apparently none of that mattered.

Best Buddy said, "I will have to read that." I think she'll like it and I was pleased that I still remembered it well enough to spit out a capsule description.  At any rate, I had a great time on the dash up to Oxford and I highly recommend This Dark Road to Mercy, which is well-written, suspenseful and touching.

As to the reading, t took quite a while for people to start trickling in but in the long run there was quite a nice crowd and I thought Wiley was an excellent speaker.  Here he is, reading from This Dark Road to Mercy:

Authors Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly live in Oxford and they came out to show their support, which was fortuitous for me because I've read and enjoyed their co-written release, The Tilted World. I asked if there were copies of The Tilted World in the store  as readings take place in Off-Square Books rather than the flagship store. There were none but someone dashed off to fetch a few copies from the main store.  They were already signed but the authors very kindly inscribed one for me.  Here are all three authors (left to right, Tom Franklin, Wiley Cash, Beth Ann Fennelly): 

After the reading, I met  up with husband and Kiddo and we went to eat Indian food with the professor my husband was in town to meet (skipped that story but Huzzybuns needed to meet up with someone and managed to arrange the meeting to coincide with the signing -- coolness).  Supper was yet another delight as the professor just happens to be a fantastic storyteller and the food was fabulous.

Side note: I have a copy of Wiley's first book, A Land More Kind Than Home, but have not yet read it and had a sneaking suspicion I would not likely find it for a while because of the chaos that has been our last year, between moving and trying to get our old house ready to go on the market.  I was wrong! Woot!  Whilst loading shelves with books in our library on Tuesday, I glanced down at a stack (they're everywhere . . . cannot wait till I no longer have books on the floor) and noticed that my hardback copy of A Land More Kind Than Home was sticking out of the bottom shelf.  Looks like a kitty helpfully pulled it partway off the shelf.  So, now I know where to look when I'm ready to read it. Second woot!

I plunked my recommendation in the middle of this sort-of review so I'm just going to reiterate that I highly recommend This Dark Road to Mercy.  There are some intense scenes of violence, so I've added a family warning for violence to my labels.  I survived, though, and you know I'm prone to nightmares, right?  Also, I highly recommend going to see Wiley if he's ever in your area.

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In which my F2F book group goes to see Labor Day, the movie

If you hang around here much, you probably already know my F2F group was provided 10 copies of Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.  I had already received a copy from HarperCollins and read the book, by the time the offer arrived, so I left the choice of whether or not to accept the offer up to members.  I liked Labor Day (the book).  And, our F2F group discussion about Labor Day was a good one; in general, everyone enjoyed it, which is interesting because I've since read a few scathing reviews, one of which referred to the pie in my favorite scene (short version: "escaped prisoner teaches deeply depressed woman and her lonely son how to bake pie") as a metaphor for life when, personally, I think it was just a scene designed to show the escaped prisoner's humanity, but that's neither here nor there. Point being, we liked the book and the discussion was a good one.

HarperCollins also provided us with 10 tickets to the Labor Day movie, which our group leader handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis.  I don't know exactly how many people showed up but I'm guessing it was 20-25.  We had a huge turnout, which was fun in and of itself - just going with a group, sitting with someone I would not likely ever have attended a movie with otherwise and discussing in the hallway after the movie ended . . . that was a terrific experience.

So, what did we think of the movie?  To be honest, there was pretty much a collective groan as we exited and the most commonly used words were "fragmented" and "confusing".  But -- and this is an interesting distinction -- that was the opinion of those of us who read the book, which was most of us.  There seemed to be an advantage to not having read the book in advance of viewing the movie, which I find is often true for me; I can't speak for anyone else in that regard.  My typical mode is to watch the movie, read the book, then watch the movie, again (if I know a book is being made into a movie and I haven't already read the book, that is).  If you see the movie first, then you can read the book with a completely different perspective.  In my case, I like to see a story visually portrayed then go deeper by reading the book, which obviously gives you the internal side, elaborates on details movies often skim over, etc.  It's a kick comparing the two mediums.

Anyway . . . ramble, ramble.  After I'd gotten a general (mostly negative) reaction from most everyone, someone nudged me and said, "H liked it!"  H is a new member and she had only read part of the book. She reminded me that the acting was good (true - great actors, all around). H also said she thought Barry, the handicapped boy, was cute and his mother was just as annoying in the movie as she was in the book.  We both agreed that Henry, Adele's son, was a good little actor and they did nicely show how Adele and Henry's weekend with Frank left a lasting imprint on both their lives.  I was really glad to have a few moments to chat with H about her thoughts because she helped me to leave the theater thinking about the positives. It's easy to focus on the fragmented way the story was filmed and overlook its strong points.

Eventually I was emailed by our group leader with thoughts from a few people who viewed the movie at a later date and shared their thoughts.  The common denominator, again, seemed to be that those who had not read the book enjoyed the Labor Day movie more than those who did, even though pretty much everyone found the flashbacks confusing.  Some just didn't care, though, and enjoyed it for what it was.  I'm going to quote our group leader:

People who enjoyed the movie because of the story, the romance of it, the happy ending, the good actors, and were not bogged down in what we knew from the book didn't care about a few scenes that may not have made a lot of sense.  Just didn't matter enough to spoil their enjoyment.   

That's pretty much H's viewpoint.  So, good and bad.  I asked and everyone did enjoy the pie scene -- one of the scenes we were most looking forward to.

I later thought about the fact that in the movie Frank is more threatening in the store (where he doesn't so much ask as insist that Adele and Henry take him home) and on the car ride to their home, which struck me as a good choice because Adele's mental illness is clear in the book and -- although I think Kate Winslet did a knock-out job of portraying her fears -- I think it made sense to have Frank appear more threatening if you haven't read about just how seriously depressed and agoraphobic Adele was, beforehand.

Our thanks to HarperCollins for providing copies of Labor Day and movie tickets.  We really had a terrific time talking about the book, watching the movie and then discussing the movie.

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A few minis - The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Returned by Jason Mott, Redshirts by John Scalzi

A few minis, today, to help me catch up on recent reads (so many!) that have tossed me into backlog hell.  
The Rosie Project is a book I read in electronic form because I saw  so many effusive tweets and reviews that when it became available for $1.99 I figured fine, I can do without the paper for the sake of reading it sooner.  I really do hate e-books.

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics with Asperger's, brilliant in his field but socially inept. When he decides it's time to find a wife, he goes about the process in the same meticulous way he does everything else.  Don finds, however, that even the women who pass his stringent written test don't meet his criteria for one reason or another but Rosie, a completely unacceptable woman sent by his best friend, attracts him in spite of her unsuitability. 

When Don finds out Rosie wants to know who her father is, he uses his research techniques and knowledge to help Rosie narrow down the candidates, mostly as an unconscious excuse to spend more time with her. But, the more time he spends with Rosie, the more he realizes that it is he who must adapt to Rosie's needs, rather than the other way around.

Don is very much like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. His inability to understand human interaction and his need for strict order make for some hilarious situations. I absolutely loved this wacky  romance and highly recommend The Rosie Project to anyone looking for an upbeat, smart, funny read. Highly recommended.

The Returned by Jason Mott is a book I'm pretty sure I read about in Entertainment Weekly. When dead people inexplicably begin turning up all over the world, they are at first returned to their homes if there are survivors willing to take them in. But, as the number of Returned grows, people begin to panic.  Are they really the people that died or something else entirely? Why are they coming back to life, if they're real?  Should they be allowed to continue living when the sheer number of Returned threatens to decimate the food supply and overwhelm the planet's resources?  The living people who have not died are referred to as the True Living.

It took me a while before I realized that The Returned was not a science fiction novel that was going to explain away the return of the dead but a "What if?" that asks what would happen if the people we lost were able to come back, for a time.  That changed the way I viewed the novel but since it was based on a dream the author had about his mother after her death and I had that same kind of dream not once but several times after my father died, I found the book gripping and then touching.  It makes you think long and hard about what might happen if you really could speak to your loved ones and interact with them, again, if only for a few months or a year.  

I would have preferred that The Returned was sci-fi because it was the curiosity about what was causing the Returned that made it such a page-turner, at first, and yet I really did appreciate the book for what it was, once I figured out where the author was taking the story. The Returned is in many ways reminiscent of "Miracle Day", the fourth season of Torchwood, although in "Miracle Day" people cease dying rather than returning from the dead.  Of course, Torchwood is sci-fi and an explanation (although not an entirely logical one) is eventually given at the end of the "Miracle Day" series but there were similarities in the way people reacted -- with fear more than hope, separating the Returned from the True Living, considering the eradication of those whom many think should return to being dead. It's fascinating to theorize about how people might really react.

Recommended. Not at all what I expected.  Still, I enjoyed the book even after realizing it was something entirely different from what I thought it was going to be.

I think I already mentioned the fact that I have a library due-date to thank for the nudge to pick up Redshirts by John Scalzi.  

Redshirts is a story that begins on with a prologue in which several crew members on the space ship Intrepid are killed by Borgovian Land Worms on an away mission. In the first chapter, an entirely different group of new crew members meet up as they wait to board the Intrepid. It doesn't take long into their service on-board the Intrepid before Ensign Andy Dahl realizes something strange is going on. When Chief Science Officer Q'eeng shows up seeking away team crewmen, his coworkers disappear for coffee or to do inventory. Dahl's not stupid; he can see that they're ducking out.  But, why?  

Then, Dahl begins to notice certain trends regarding the deaths of underlings and he's given a warning by an elusive crewman who promptly disappears.  Why are so many new crew members dying during missions?  Who is the hairy man who gave Dahl a warning and why is he so difficult to locate?  Can Dahl survive as a new crew member who can't always duck his duty on away teams?  

Eventually, Dahl figures out what's going on and I'm not sure whether or not it's a spoiler but I'm not going to share his conclusions or what happens, just in case doing so might ruin the reading for someone. I like going into a book as clueless as possible, myself.  Suffice it to say, there is a very crazy reason for the deaths of the eponymous Redshirts (whom any Star Trek fan will have noted as the most likely crew members to die on an away team).  

John Scalzi never fails to entertain and Redshirts is a delight.  Subtitled "A Novel with Three Codas", I think the storyline could have stopped right before the codas and I would have been perfectly satisfied.  I didn't like the first coda at all; it was a jarring switch from the main storyline to the viewpoint of . . . oh, maybe that's a spoiler, but anyway . . . while I think the codas could have been dropped entirely, in the end I liked where Scalzi took the story.  

Highly recommended, especially to Star Trek and sci-fi fans.  There were quite a few grammatical errors in Redshirts, which surprised me because I used to read Scalzi's blog, Whatever, and he's such a sharp writer that I hesitate to blame the errors (mixed tenses in particular) on the author. Eh, whatever. It's a crazy-fun ride.  

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Old snow, old movies, new books

It took me weeks to replace my memory card reader, so I've just finally loaded the photos from this year's snow.  We only got about 1/2", a dry, sugary snow that was very pretty (and snow flurries, twice).

This week's arrivals:

  • The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona - from Sourcebooks for review
  • The Detainee by Peter Liney - from Michele at A Reader's Respite
  • Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston - via Paperback Swap

From HarperCollins for review:

  • The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena
  • The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor
  • Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

Last week's posts:

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck (review)
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee (review)

Books finished:

  • Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck  

Ugh, that's all.  I didn't even read any children's books!  Nor did I succeed at coming anywhere near catching up on reviews, but we're finally, finally on the verge of putting our old house on the market so between our run to Oxford to see Wiley Cash speak at Square Books and afternoons spent working on the house, I haven't had a lot of free time for anything.  Hopefully, things will ease up, soon.  Fingers crossed.

Oh, did I forget to tell you about seeing Wiley Cash?  He's a terrific speaker.  I'll post a pic of him (which you may have seen on Twitter if you follow me) when I review This Dark Road to Mercy.  Can't believe I haven't reviewed that, yet.  It was my final January read.  On the plus side, it's memorable so hopefully I'll still be able to describe it coherently.

Currently reading:

Too many books, none really clicking.  I read parts of Priscilla by Nicholas Shakespeare and Children's Wartime Diaries: Secret Writings from the Holocaust and WWII, ed. by Laurel Holliday -- both of which are WWII books.  At some point I added Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman. Although Savage Harvest is beautifully written, the first chapter graphically describes the death of a man at the hands of headhunters and it is, indeed, savage. I'll get back to it, but after setting aside two books about the horrors of the Holocaust and reading the description of how headhunters sliced up their victim I needed an upper.

I turned to Redshirts by John Scalzi. It's a little over-the-top, but Scalzi is reliable for a smile and that's apparently what I needed. I have 2 evenings to finish Redshirts before it's due back at the library so as soon as I finish this post I'm making a beeline for the sofa.

I didn't do any armchair traveling with A History of the World with Google Earth, this week, but I plan to play with that some more, this week.  It's tremendous fun.

Weekend movies:

We watched Ocean's Eleven and the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds version of Persuasion. I love the closing scene.

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

The wake lasted for another hour or so, and probably would have gone on for hours longer had the skies not suddenly clotted up and the winds blown in yet another immense storm system, one that would hover for weeks in a slowly unwinding gyre, the sun blocked out the whole time so that all you could see in your waking and your sleep was not brightness or darkness but a waxen shimmer, as though everything were stuck behind a grimy piece of glass.

~ from p. 31, Advance Reader Copy of On Such a Full Sea (changes may have been made to the final print version)

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee is a dystopian novel set, near as I can tell, approximately 200 years or so into the future. There's no real explanation of what horrors poisoned the air and ground and caused a ragged end to civilization in the United States, although I thought the implication was that nothing was done to halt the use of damaging chemicals throughout the world, that climate change and population increases took huge tolls and that the political climate in the U.S. eventually became so unstable that the country basically went to pieces.  Those are all just suppositions on my part.

The central storyline in On Such a Full Sea revolves around a tiny young lady named Fan who lives in a complex in the former city of Baltimore (now known as B-Mor), a labor-class village that has been around for just over 100 years, since the ancestors of the current residents were brought over from China.

Fan works in the fish tanks that supply meat for the Charters, the wealthiest and most intelligent people, who have closed their own communities to all but those from whom they purchase goods or services. It's very rare for someone in a place like B-Mor to pass the stringent tests that will allow one to cross over to life in a Charter village. Outside of B-Mor is the county, where people who are for some reason unable to live in either the Charter or labor villages live bleak and dangerous lives.  People are captured, traded or killed if they're not considered of any value in the county. Nobody outside B-Mor can be trusted. Seriously, nobody.

Fan is especially good at her job and she loves it but now and then someone is called in by the authorities and never seen again, and this happens to Fan's boyfriend, Reg.  Reg is also good at his job harvesting vegetables and he's not a troublemaker, nor is he sharp enough to have passed the test that would allow him the rare opportunity to move up to a Charter village. Distraught and knowing that she is carrying Reg's child, Fan leaves her safe village life and comfortable job to search for Reg.

The story of what happens to Fan after she leaves B-Mor comprises the bulk of On Such a Full Sea but the author veers back and forth between descriptions of life in B-Mor and how the disappearances of Fan and Reg impacted the people of the village to what became of Fan when she abandoned her home to search for the love of her life.  Her search for Reg takes her from one danger to another and it is in her growing ability to react to each of these dangers that Fan shows herself to be tiny on the outside but a powerhouse in other ways.  I really liked Fan.

Vocabulary word:

penumbra: The partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.

"When her eyes adjusted, Fan could see in the penumbra that they were in a kitchen of sorts [. . . ]"

Noteable:  Chang-Rae Lee introduced me to Vincent Van Gogh's Almond Blossom, a lovely painting I somehow missed in spite of being a casual Van Gogh fan.

Recommended - On Such a Full Sea is written with complex beauty and admirable world building. Its dense prose makes the book a slow read but although it took seemingly ages to get through the book, there was both a feeling of familiarity (as there often is in dystopian worlds, which tend to feature sharp divisions between the privileged and oppressed) and a uniqueness that eventually kept me glued to the pages.

Belated Fiona Friday.  I was going for the flower-adorned glamour shot but this is what I got from Izzy:

Happy Weekend!

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

[. . . ] like it or not, this town was a part of me.  I could feel its dust on my feet, its rivers like blood in my veins, its street patterns etched on my skin; to leave would mean amputating a part of myself.

~ from Advance Reader Copy of Fallen Beauty (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Two up-front warnings: 

1.  It's 2:00 in the morning. I diddled around all day when I knew I should have been finishing this book to review it because . . . 
2.  The timing was wrong.  But, I loved where Erika Robuck took the story, in the end. I just had a terrible time getting into Fallen Beauty.

Fallen Beauty follows Erika Robuck's pattern: the fictional biography of a historical character told via the placement of an entirely fictional character whose life intersects with that of the real-life character, in this case poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and fictional seamstress Laura Kelley.

The year is 1928. Laura is 19 when she falls in love. In the course of a single night of passion, she becomes pregnant. But, the man she loves is not available. Before her child arrives, tragedy strikes, leaving the family business on shaky ground.

Laura chooses to keep baby Grace and becomes a pariah in her small community. It is difficult enough to survive as a seamstress after the stock market crash. With few people willing to cross the threshold of her shop, Laura is barely surviving when Edna St. Vincent Millay (who chose to go by the name "Vincent") comes into the picture.

Vincent is married but her marriage to Eugen is open and she is bisexual. She's known for her wild parties and love life as much as her poetry in the town near her mountain home.  Vincent is drawn to Laura after hearing Eugen's description of her and wants Laura in her life. But, she also desires to help Laura after realizing the hardship Laura endures, both as an outcast and a single mother.

There's much more to the story than I can or should go into, but . . . gypsies, sister, kind sculptor, nasty village woman, one-night stand between Millay and a villager that complicates things . . . those are some of the other elements.  

What I loved about Fallen Beauty:

Exceptional characterization, to the point that "Vincent" initially made my skin crawl, believable dialogue, skillful narrative and an uplifting ending are some of the things I loved about Fallen Beauty. Laura is a fascinating character. She battles grief and guilt yet she's willing to place herself in an untenable position because she is also a loving person.  She is strong enough to remain true to herself, even while filled with self-doubt.  By the end of the book, I admired her deeply.  Edna St. Vincent Millay struck me as bizarre, at first.  But, the author managed to show her humanity at the same time she revealed her dangerous weaknesses (which eventually led to her death), the impact of her upbringing on her behavior and her mad genius.  When Robuck spoke from Vincent's point of view, I felt a little like I'd jumped on the crazy train but it was the fact that Millay's wildly creative viewpoint was believable that made it so uncomfortable.

What I disliked about Fallen Beauty:

That skin-crawling distaste for Edna St. Vincent Millay's wild life and her unique point of view really put me off to the point that I considered not finishing Fallen Beauty.  Fortunately, Tammy (whose review I'll link up to, below) convinced me that I would not regret finishing. She gave it 5 stars and it was thanks to her encouragement that I continued reading. While it took me nearly a week to read the book, I truly think that can be chalked up at least partially to poor timing because I did love the writing; it's both fluid and self-assured.

And yet I had enough trouble dissociating myself from the discomfort of reading the portions told from Millay's viewpoint that I kept dragging my feet and occasionally zoning out. Fallen Beauty is, for me, a book that I appreciate more upon reflection than I managed while I was reading it. Weird but true.

Other thoughts:

I didn't mind the secret of Laura's unknown lover being dangled throughout most of the book, even though some small part of me was thinking of the secret as a literary device. So what, another small part of me said. I rather like the not knowing because it opens up the option to gleefully theorize. 

RecommendedFallen Beauty is at once a fictional story of love and loss, pain and redemption and a glimpse into the life of a famous poet, masterfully told. Between my distaste for Edna St. Vincent Millay's lifestyle and the wrong mood, I can't say I fell in love with Fallen Beauty; my attention strayed. And, yet, after finishing I have that, "Oh, I see what she did," sensation that Tammy described.  I get it, now; Tammy was right. I am quite impressed with Erika Robuck's storytelling skill.  

My thanks to TLC Book Tours and NAL for the review copy of Fallen Beauty.  Thanks, also, to Tammy for convincing me not to give up.

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Malarkey or A Shocking Look at What May Happen During a Brief Blogging Break

The photo above is not what my time away has looked like (photo from our trip to Costa Rica in 2009).  ;)  Oh, well.  One can dream.

I'm back to catch up on a bit of malarkey, but I'm not sure if I'll manage to get any reviews written for a few more days.  I have, however, managed to build myself one heck of a review backlog and have hacked away at the beginnings of one review. It doesn't feel very cohesive but I may soon post the review and move on.  We shall see.  In the meantime . . . a bit of malarkey:

Arrivals since I last posted:

From HarperCollins for review:

  • Fallout by Sadie Jones
  • When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon
  • 50 Children by Steven Pressman

From Sterling Children's for review:

  • Who Were the American Pioneers? by Martin W. Sandler
  • What Was America's Deadliest War? by Martin W. Sandler
  • How Does a Seed Sprout? by Melissa Stewart
  • How Many Planets Circle the Sun? by Mary Kay Carson
  • How Does a Caterpillar Become a Butterfly? by Melissa Stewart
  • How Does the Ear Hear? by Melissa Stewart
  • Why Does Earth Spin? by Mary Kay Carson

    all from the Good Question! series

  • Who's in the Tree? by Craig Shuttlewood
  • Is That My Cat? by Jonathan Allen
  • A History of the World with Google Earth by Penny Worms and William Ings
  • Ode to Childhood, ed. by Lucy Gray
  • Goodnight Songs (with CD) by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Dinosaur Numbers, Dinosaur Shapes, Dinosaur Colors and Dinosaur Opposites, all by Paul Strickland

From Paperback Swap:

  • Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
  • View from the Air by Hugh Fosburgh

This is the point at which your eyeballs pop out in shock, right?  I'm not even certain that's everything.  I sure hope it is.  On the night the first of two boxes from Sterling Kids showed up, I was in a very bad mood. We'd had three days of heavy overcast and cold, dreary rain. Amazing how that surprise box lifted my spirits.  Oh, yes . . .

Checked out from the library:

  • The Returned by Jason Mott
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi

Last week's posts:

Nada - been gone.  Still halfway gone.

Books finished since I vamoosed:

  • The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion
  • On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
  • Is That My Cat? by Jonathan Allen
  • Who's in the Tree? by Craig Shuttlewood?
  • Why Does Earth Spin? by Mary Kay Carson
  • Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by Pflugfelder and Hockensmith
  • Who Were the American Pioneers? by Martin W. Sandler
  • The Making of a Marchioness (also known as Emily Fox Seton), parts 1 & 2 by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Returned by Jason Mott
  • Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown (and I'm listening to the CD, as I type).
  • All four of the dinosaur books by Paul Strickland (listed in arrivals)

Talk about casting yourself into review backlog hell.  I don't know that I'm even willing to update my sidebar with all that mess. I may have to have a Children's Week rather than a Children's Day (my usual method for tackling a pile of children's books), soon.

Currently reading:

  • Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck
  • A History of the World with Google Earth by Worms and Ings (learning a great deal from this children's book and having a blast armchair traveling to various historical sites)
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Penman . . . still . . . occasionally. Only on p. 350 out of about 950 pp. but fortunately one can walk away from this book for a week or more and return without forgetting what's occurred.

I didn't get far into the Sterling book about The Middle Ages so I'm going to set that one aside, for now. I've got some other non-fiction that I need and desire to read.

Other reading notes:

I discovered the local thrift shop sells used books for 10 cents each. This is not necessarily something I need to know.

The Making of a Marchioness and its sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, are paired together as Emily Fox Seton and available for free download via Project Gutenberg.  I was all set to put The Making of a Marchioness on my list of books to look for at Persephone Books, the next time I'm in London, when Tasha informed me that I could load the set for free.  And, then I discovered that The Making of a Marchioness is already on my wish list at Paperback Swap.  Funny.  My interest was piqued after I watched The Making of a Lady, which is loosely based on the books.  You can read about The Making of a Lady in The Telegraph.  I didn't realize The Making of a Lady was based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett book until I watched the credits roll. So, why did I watch this period drama, in the first place?  This is why:

James D'Arcy.  Fabulous actor.  I loved him in Master and Commander and he was frankly terrifying as Alec in The Making of a Lady.  Apparently, he's gained a reputation as something of a chameleon. The two roles in which I've seen him would bear out that description. I found this article about James D'Arcy in The Guardian.  It made me appreciate him even more. I did enjoy the books but this is one case in which I love what was done to make the story more dramatic for screen, although I didn't always understand what they were trying to say and there's a particular scene that still doesn't make sense to me after having read the books.

Addendum:  I completely forgot to mention that Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman was a DNF.  I'll remove the image from my sidebar.

That's all for now!  Happy Monday!

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Blogging break and brief words about Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman

I'm almost done with my January reviews and the last of my January reads, This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash, was my absolute favorite.  But, for some reason I've hit the wall and can't get myself to write a review of it (or anything else).  It must be time for a little break.  What Hawaiian chickens have to do with a break is beyond me.  I was going to put a word bubble next to that front chicken, "I think I'll go that way for a while," but I couldn't remember which photo-editing website I've used to do that.  Just imagine the chicken is me, going off in another direction for a time, okay?  

Besides the Wiley Cash book (which I am dying to tell you about, when I can get myself to write, again), I was due to write a tour review of this book by the 8th of February:

Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman is a fictional tale about a photographer in search of her father and her encounter with the Monuments Men (whom you've no doubt heard about because a movie about them is being released, this week).  I'm still reading the book, enjoying it and will write a review of it as soon as I can but there's no way I'll be done with it by tonight.  My apologies to the publisher for not finishing before the end of the tour.  

I'm hoping some times away from the computer will refresh my urge to write book reviews. I'll just stay away till the urge to spill about books returns.  Usually, it's just a matter of days but I can never say, for sure.  

See you soon!

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Mini Reviews - Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I need to do some catch-up, so it's mini review time, again.

Lost Lake is the latest release by Sarah Addison Allen. I've read all of her books and rushed out and find a copy of Lost Lake during release week.  It took me about 4 or 5 days to locate a copy and then I spent the next evening gobbling the book down.

Kate has spent her first year as a widow in a daze. On the day Kate and her daughter Devin are due to move in with Kate's mother-in-law, Cricket, she "wakes up" after finding a postcard from her Aunt Eby's lakeside cabin business, Lost Lake.  Kate spent the last, best summer of her life at Lost Lake and now she has a sudden urge to return.

At Lost Lake, she finds that her widowed Aunt Eby is on the verge of selling her business to travel the world but Eby's hesitant to say goodbye to Lost Lake for good.

There's a wonderful hodge-podge of characters in Lost Lake: Selma, who seems bitter about the special charms which have helped her acquire (but not keep) a large number of husbands; Lisette, a French woman Eby once saved and who is unable to speak; Jack, a guest who is painfully shy and in love with Lisette; Buhladeen, who is everyone's friend and comes up with the idea to host a goodbye party for Eby; Wes, the boy Kate spent her last best summer with, now a grown man who is wounded by his dark past: Lazlo, the wealthy developer who wants to tear down the cabins to create a new development. And, there's an alligator who talks to Devin.

Highly recommended - I had a little trouble getting into Lost Lake because Kate sounded a bit too much like me in some of her pains and yearnings but with the advantages of youth and money to change her life.  Eventually, though, I got over myself and was swept away. I closed the book with little joyful tears streaming down my face. As usual, Sarah Addison Allen has succeeded at telling a lovely, wise, heartwarming story with her own special touch of magic. I particularly loved the alligator.  Lost Lake is an especially meaningful release because it's Sarah's first published novel since her battle with late-stage breast cancer ended in remission.  I hope she will live a long, long time and write many more books.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill has gotten a lot of gushy praise. The first time I opened it, I gave up in frustration. I didn't like the dislocated style: a paragraph or two about the protagonist as her romance progresses through marriage and child to affair with factoids (some seemingly random, some relevant) interspersed throughout.  It was an odd, jolting manner of storytelling.

The second time I opened the book, I did so at the urging of other bloggers, who advised me that Dept. of Speculation requires patience but eventually the story comes together. Michele of A Readers Respite told me there were so many little gems that she thought she might need to reread it with a highlighting pen. Andi of Estella's Revenge loved it. And, there's definitely some truth to Michele's statement about all those little gems. I think I enjoyed the random quotations and tidbits of information as much as or more than the storyline that wove through them (although I did love the way the story ended).  Often, I found myself setting the book aside to go look up more about a particular topic.

Meh, you might like it (aka "iffy on recomendation") - While I did eventually like the way Jenny Offill pulled together this story of a struggling marriage and a wife-gone-bitter in the end, the truth is that I always felt far too distant from the characters -- even the narrator -- to become fully engaged.  So, I gave it three stars and if I ever touch my copy again it will be to for the same reason Michele mentioned - to highlight those little interesting tidbits scattered throughout.

Other reviews:

Michele's thoughts about Dept. of Speculation at A Reader's Respite
Andi at Estella's Revenge reviews Dept. of Speculation

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Snow, the usual malarkey and what I did during the Super Bowl

I was fully expecting a snow-free winter but we got about 1/2" of snow, last week!  Unfortunately, my card reader died, so I haven't loaded any new snow pics.  The poppets above posed in 2011.  We've had at least 3 snows in the last 4 years!  Wild!  This time, I filled a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with snow and stashed it in my freezer so I can snow on myself in August (or, at least, admire the snow and think of cooler days when we're in that, "Dear God please, please, please give us a break from the heat" phase). 

This week's arrivals:
  • Shadows in the Sun by Gayathri Ramprasad - from Hazelden (Perseus Books?) for tour
  • Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck - from NAL for tour

Last week's posts:

Books finished last week (not reviewed, yet):

  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
  • This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
  • Spy Smuggler: Paul Lelaud, France 1942-44 by Jim Eldridge 

Currently reading:

  • On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
  • The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion
  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman 


I had the Viking Age book from Sterling's Everyday Life series in my sidebar, last week, but all I managed to read was the introductory material and I kept glancing longingly at The Middle Ages from the same series till I realized I needed to switch titles. It makes a lot more sense to read about the Middle Ages in non-fiction while reading The Sunne in Splendour, a book about The Wars of the Roses, than to mix historical time and place.  So, I set Viking Age aside, plunked The Middle Ages in my sidebar and proceeded to promptly have 2 days of negligible reading progress.  Still, I do plan to get going on The Middle Ages, soon, so I guess I'll leave it in the sidebar unless I fail to get started.

And, other notes on reading:

The copy of The Rosie Project that I'm reading is (gasp!) an e-book!!!  After reading so many gushy reviews, I figured I really ought to snap it up when the e-book went on sale for $1.99.  I just began reading it late last night or early this morning.  To be honest, I can't remember which, but I'm loving it.

I had set The Sunne in Splendour aside for a couple weeks and just dived back into it, this weekend, but I started to get my Edwards and Richards confused and had to do some side reading about the Woodvilles, so I didn't get very far.  As I've mentioned before, this one may take me months to get through.  I'm enjoying it, though.

Just before the Super Bowl began, I was paging through Facebook posts and saw a link via PBS to an article listing 14 books you could read in the time it takes to watch the Super Bowl and thought, "Hey! That's a great idea!  I could have a little mini reading challenge during the Super Bowl." It made sense with just two of us hanging around and neither particularly interested in the football game.

So, I brought out several short books and read Spy Smuggler by Jim Eldridge, from Scholastic's "My Story" series of historical fiction masking as true stories (I still object to the combination of the "My Story" name without an author listed on the cover, which misleads readers into thinking they're about to read history from a primary source). It was an excellent story and I would have moved on to the next book on my pile but Huzzybuns turned on Downton Abbey, for me. I'm on the verge of giving up on this season of Downton but naturally I had to stayed tuned in for Sherlock.  There went the rest of the evening.

I'm sure all the Oklahomans watching Sherlock sat up straighter when Sherlock said his parents were in Oklahoma and he'd hate to interrupt them while they're working on their line dancing. We certainly thought that was a great moment.

Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend and this week is off to a great start!

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Everything moved too fast and New York City was dirty and full of itself, but Cora's eyes had been opened by being in the heart of it, the movement and roar, the tallness of the amazing edifices, the sun at such an unfamiliar high remove, flat sidewalks that stretched to infinity, mysterious steam shooting up from the middle of the street, diamonds in shop windows, flags of affluence flying from department stores and banks, doormen dressed like English gentry, flowering trees and marble mansions.

~p. 100 of A Star for Mrs. Blake (Advance Reader Copy - some changes may have been made to the final print version)

A Star for Mrs. Blake is a fictional tale based on a true event.  From 1930 - 1933, the mothers of WWI soldiers buried in France were given the opportunity to visit their sons' graves at U.S. Government expense.  Mothers of soldiers killed in the line of duty were known as "gold star" mothers because of the banners hanging in their windows. When a soldier was killed, his family would change out their blue-star banner for one with a gold star, which symbolized death.  I know this practice continued at least through WWII because I have the banner my grandparents had hanging in their window while my father was serving in WWII.  You can read a little about the Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages, here.

Mrs. Blake is Cora, a single mother and volunteer librarian from Maine who came home from college with a baby, a new name, and the tale of how her husband died of cholera. Her son Sammy has been gone for over a decade and now she is taking care of her deceased sister's children. Life in Maine is harsh. She loves the girls but will always miss her Sammy, whom she chose to have buried in France. When Cora is sent a letter about the opportunity to travel to France, she jumps at the chance to view Sammy's grave, see where he died and make new friends.

Griffin Reed is a reporter who hasn't been able to do the job he loves since a horrendous injury took a chunk of his face during the same war that took Sammy's life. He lives in Paris because  he can't bear the thought of going home the way he is, wears a tin mask painted to make him look as normal as possible and is addicted to morphine. When he meets Cora, he is inspired to write an article about one mother's experience.  

The way Reed had talked about his hometown, it was sunny all the time and everyone had an orange tree and lived in the desert, where they were scalded into madness by their own greed, which made California sound like a Bible tale with a moral no one could explain.

~p. 187 of ARC

There's a lot more to A Star for Mrs. Blake than I can possibly go into. A young soldier from a long line of Army men who served heroically is in charge of the group of mothers that includes Cora; and, a young nurse accompanies them to see to their health and well-being. There are several other mothers with dramatically varied backgrounds in Cora's bunch - a Russian who escaped the Jewish pogroms, a poor Irish immigrant, a wealthy socialite and a mentally unbalanced woman who has been in and out of mental hospitals for many years.  Cora has a fiancĂ©e in Maine but she's not entirely sure he's right for her. 

There are little battles of personality as the mothers tour France and there are plenty of other surprises to the plot.  Griffin Reed doesn't come into the book until well into the story but he's very important because he has a story of his own; and, it is Griffin who helps Cora find peace in a surprising way. 

I was a little jarred by the introduction of Griffin Reed because I was accustomed to the book being about the mixing of personalities and the various stops on the pilgrimage but Reed's presence added a new dimension to the story, both because of his importance to Cora and because he is a man who was permanently damaged by the same war that killed the young men whose graves the mothers are visiting. 

Highly recommended - Interesting characters, well-researched settings and some very surprising moments in A Star for Mrs. Blake made the time and place come to life.  I was unfamiliar with the pilgrimages but now I want to know more.  Entertaining and, at times, deeply moving, I loved the interaction between characters but I particularly loved the exciting bits of tension (spoilery, sorry) and the touching surprises toward the end of the book.  I closed the book with fat tears streaming down my face. 

In other news:

Happy Groundhog Day!  I hear we get six more weeks of winter. I'm okay with that. Winter is great in Mississippi.  A break from pollen and heat and never-ending yardwork!  Squee! The groundhog is usually wrong but one can hope.  

©2014 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.