Saturday, May 31, 2014

Time off

Back Thursday!

©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, May 28, 2014

Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown

Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown
Copyright 2014
William Morrow - Fiction
Source: Harper Collins for review
Scheduled release: July, 2014

I made the mistake of picking up a book that doesn't release till July when I was trying to find something, anything that would grab me (hence the photo of an ARC taken on my breakfast nook floor) So, if you're interested in Don't Try to Find Me, you'll have a bit of a wait but I want to go ahead and post about it while it's fresh in my mind.

Brief synopsis:

14-year-old Marley has run away, leaving a note on a white board telling her parents not to bother looking for her, she'll be fine.  At first, her mother is dumbfounded. Could she be talking in the silly language they used to use, "opposite speak"? Someone must have forced her to write that message. Marley's not the type to run away. Or is she? While Marley's mother Rachel bolsters herself with false hope and tries to bury her one and only secret, casting herself in suspicion, her father turns to social media, the news and the police in a campaign to make her face so familiar across the country that someone will undoubtedly find her.

Through Rachel's thoughts and a journal written by Marley, the reader follows the unfolding mystery from one end and the escalating horror from the other. Will Marley be found in time? Will Rachel's secret be uncovered?  What did Marley's father do to upset Marley and is his massive campaign to find her just a way to cover up the mistakes of his past or is he genuinely concerned about his daughter?

My thoughts:

First things first:  Don't Try to Find Me has been compared to Gone Girl in the publicity material. Throw that idea out the window. I haven't read Gone Girl so I didn't have to worry about the burden of comparison but those who have read Gone Girl are, I observed, not pleased. They were expecting one thing and got another. Understandable.

For my part, I thought Don't Try to Find Me was suitably gripping. It saved me from a slump, after all. Written by a practicing family therapist, the author tends to use a lot of terminology that makes her background clear but masks it by making Marley a young girl who went through therapy and then was declared cured. Marley's former therapist eventually becomes important to the storyline.

Was the book well-written?  I would say it's average, as far as the writing style. It's not highly quotable, there's nothing lyrical or beautiful about it.

Were my expectations met?  Yes and no. There was enough suspense to keep the pages turning but there's a little too much build-up over issues that, in the long run, are pretty minor (the errors of the parents).  However, the author does make it clear that being young and vulnerable are enough to lead to trouble. It seemed to me the book was as much about how easily a youngster can be drawn into a truly dangerous situation because of her youth and innocence as it was about the suspense. I found the psychological aspect pretty fascinating.  Read the comments beneath any article about statutory rape, these days, and you'll find that a shocking number of the commenters think it's no big deal -- Who doesn't have sex by that age? they'll say, excusing older men for luring an innocent, as if doing so is no longer a crime because of societal expectations.

Don't Try to Find Me is a book that reminds you that youth and wisdom don't go hand in hand, that paying attention to your child and making it easy for her to share her feelings can be crucial to her safety and that, yes, statutory rape truly is a crime because girls who are not yet of legal age are definitely not mature enough to understand what they're getting into. Kudos to the author for an important reminder about an issue our society doesn't fully understand.

Recommended - A suspenseful story that fizzles a little in the middle when you find out the parents' mistakes are not all that shocking but picks up again when you realize the danger to Marley, well plotted and believable. I don't know the author's intent but I thought she did an excellent job of portraying a young teenage girl's emotional vulnerability. There are some frightening/unsettling scenes and a bit of graphic sex, another rare case in which those scenes are actually important to portraying the characters.

©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, May 27, 2014

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Copyright 2014 
Harper - Historical Fiction/Russia WWII and post WWII
Source: HarperCollins via TLC for review

Well, I have good news and bad news, sort of.  The good news is that I decided not to give up on One Night in Winter.  The bad news is that even after reading a good portion of the evening, I'm not finished.  So, I'm going to write my current thoughts and then return when I've finished to update. According to Goodreads (which conveniently does the math for me), I'm 77% of the way through. I'm currently unable to focus. It sometimes takes a while before my eyes wake up.

One Night in Winter is set just after the end of WWII in Europe (the Pacific War has not yet ended). Andrei's father disappeared during the war and he and his mother have just recently returned to Moscow. He is a teenager and applies to a number of schools but is shocked when he's accepted into School 801, the school attended by the children of Moscow's elite.  He is growing a small circle of friends and has been invited into a club for romantics when two of the group's members are killed. Was it a murder/suicide or was there something more to the deaths? When the young romantics are taken to Lubianka prison, it quickly becomes apparent to their parents that the questioning of their children is a test of their loyalty and Bolshevik restraint. But, then the cryptic and misleading notebook of the group's dead leader is found and things become very serious.

I've already mentioned that I was only on page 130, yesterday, and strongly considering the possibility of giving up. I can't entirely say why. The story is definitely an interesting one and becomes more twisty and fascinating (if a bit violent) the further you get into it. At this point, there have been a lot of arrests, we've bounced back and forth in time to get a hint of what the parents may have done wrong and only one person has been released from prison, possibly so that she can be followed.  And, the honest truth is that I could set One Night in Winter aside without finding out what happens, no worries.  However, I don't think I can blame the book entirely. I think it's more a case of "not for me" than "bad book".

What I like best about One Night in Winter is the fact that it has reminded me of how terrifying it must have been to live in post-war Soviet Union. I've read stories, of course.  I remember the so-called "Iron Curtain" and how restrictive it was. I remember reading about daring escapes in Reader's Digest and attended a "10-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall" party hosted by a German couple. But, reading about how people were forced to speak in code because merely uttering certain words could get them killed, beaten or sent to prison for life (the fact that one only had to be 12 years of age to be old enough for the death penalty is repeatedly mentioned) brings the history home more vividly.

Addendum:  I finished reading One Night in Winter several hours ago, threw it aside and promptly fell asleep. I woke up feeling a little ticked. The author's notes say both the story of Serafima (who fell in love with an American) and the Children's Case (the murder case in which young people playing a game caused a tremendous amount of grief for a large number of people) were based on true stories. He also said the book was mostly about love. I read about torture of children and a sort-of-creepy middle-aged affair and the intention was to describe love? Ack. I was hoping for a slightly thrilling story with a little mystery and romance but One Night in Winter was not quite any of those things, a book that couldn't seem to decide what it was about, and the ending was way too tidy and coincidental. For this reader, the book fails on all fronts and I am no longer recommending it.

Even later:  After sleeping on it and giving the reading experience some thought, I'm backpedaling to the lesser "iffy on recommendation" with warning for graphic sex and violence. Although I don't believe the book succeeded as a book about love, I do think it succeeds as a story about what life was like during the transition from WWII to the terrifying years of isolation and restriction that continued for nearly 30 years. Whether or not that's what the author intended, I learned from the reading experience. The fact that I had to force myself through the book serves as an excellent reminder of why I normally stop at 50 pages if a book isn't grabbing me.  Finishing a book that never does quite click tends to make me unreasonably angry at the waste of time. I'm not angry with the author, though; I am upset with myself for not saying, "OK, this one's not for me," and moving on. 

Iffy on recommendation with warnings for graphic sex and violence (including torture of children) - A large cast and an interesting story set during a fascinating time in history were not enough to grab me by the hair and drag me into One Night in Winter. But, it was the fact that the book was none of the things I expected -- neither thrilling, romantic or all that mysterious -- that led me to unreasonably recommend against the book, immediately upon finishing.  If you have a particular interest in the Soviet Union just after WWII, you may enjoy it for the historical setting. It is certainly a learning experience about what it was like to live in the Soviet Union during the post-war Stalin years. The cast of characters includes both real and fictional characters.

©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, May 26, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Books, movies, cat news

This is probably some sort of historical landmark after nearly 8 years of blogging -- a second week in which not a single book arrived from a publisher. That is, of course, partly because I'm turning down every offer I get, at the moment, due to a backlog of unread ARCs. But, I often give in to review requests, even knowing I have too many books to deal with, so I'm pretty pleased with myself.  

This week's arrivals, all from friends:

Top to bottom:

  • The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman
  • Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson
  • Run, Don't Walk by Adele Levine, P.T.
  • Archetype by M. D. Waters
  • The Quick by Lauren Owen

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown

Currently reading:

  • One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Bark (stories) by Lorrie Moore 

Not a great week for reading. And, I didn't feel much like writing, either, but pairing two book reviews in each of the two posts I wrote helped. It's kind of a mental trick, the mini review. I tell myself I'm not going to write much and that feels so freeing that I actually still end up writing more detailed reviews than a lot of bloggers ever bother writing. Brevity is not necessarily my strength. I'm not bragging, here.  I'm just relieved that fooling myself still sometimes works.

As to the reading . . . oh, my gosh, this entire week was torture!  After last weekend's, "I can't find a thing to read amongst the thousands of books in this house," I finally settled in with Pigs in Heaven, as I've already mentioned.  And, then, when I went through the exact same thing all over again I decided I'd better return to One Night in Winter. I only read 39 pages of One Night in Winter on the first attempt and restarted the book from the beginning because it has a large enough cast I didn't feel confident that I would remember all of the characters, but . . . same thing.  I keep setting it aside. Tomorrow is tour day.  I've read 130 pages and have absolutely no interest in picking the book back up.  I'm going to finish reading the first story in Bark and then read a little more of One Night in Winter and make a decision.  To DNF or not to DNF?  That is the question.

Weekend movies:

Husband and I happened across Foul Play on TV as the movie was beginning. Foul Play is a movie starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, released in 1978.  Goldie is a divorced librarian whose soon-to-be-married friend tells her she needs to quit hiding behind her spectacles, get out, and have a good time. Goldie remembers her friend's words when she happens across a man with car trouble (Scotty) and gives him a ride into town. He is clearly being followed. Scotty hides a roll of film in a pack of cigarettes, tells her he's trying to quit and asks her to hold onto his three remaining cigarettes until later in the week when they'll meet at the theater. He shows up in the middle of the movie, bleeding, and tells her "Beware of the dwarf," then dies.

Chevy Chase plays a clumsy man who tries to make small-talk with Gloria at her friend's party but can't say anything right. When Scotty dies and his body disappears then someone attacks Gloria at her apartment and she stabs him, a second man shows up and she faints, Chevy Chase is one of the detectives who comes to investigate (Tony). An albino, a man with a scar and the dwarf are all in search of the film canister Gloria doesn't even realize she possesses. Mystery, a little romance, a lot of nutty fun.  I've always loved this movie and consider it one of Chevy Chase's best.

After watching Foul Play, I was in the mood for more Chevy Chase or Goldie Hawn.  Fletch, Housesitter or Overboard?  We looked them up (we have Amazon streaming but not Netflix) and none were available for free streaming.  However, we own all of them on DVD so Husband marched off to dig and came back with both Fletch and Housesitter. I chose Housesitter, a 1992 movie in which Goldie plays a woman who meets architect Newton Davis (played by Steve Martin) when she waitresses at a party his firm is having at a restaurant called The Budapest.

Gwen pretends she doesn't speak English during the party but when Davis overhears her speaking with a friend and says, "You tricked me," she says she only pretended not to speak English "for ambience."  She is a chronic liar, "The Ernest Hemingway of bullshit," according to Davis (once he figures her out). They take a walk and chat, then he sleeps over and she goes to his hometown, Dobb's Mill, to see the house he built for the woman who turned down his proposal, Becky. Gwen tells everyone she married Davis, moves into the house, and gets to know the townsfolk, including his parents (who call him "Newton," rather than "Davis"). When Davis finds out she's taken over his house and told so many lies he can't keep up with them all, he agrees to let her stay till she's helped him get the promotion she told everyone he has already received. Then, he imagines, maybe Becky will marry him. Of course, he falls in love with Gwen and has to tell a few whoppers to keep her.  Housesitter is such a fun movie.

In cat news, Isabel has begun sleeping next to my shoulder at night.  I'll occasionally wake up briefly, feel her little fur presence, rub her on the head and go right back to sleep. There's not a lot of room between my shoulder and the edge of the mattress but since she's about the size of a loaf of bread when she's got her paws tucked up, it seems to work.  

©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, May 23, 2014

Fiona Friday and 2 mini reviews: When the Cypress Whispers by Y. M. Corporon & Pigs in Heaven by B. Kingsolver

This is what happens when you try to cover a box to keep one cat from gnawing on it and the other cat just happens to be a burrower:

Just seconds after I snapped this photo, Isabel scrambled out backwards and plopped down onto the floor looking ruffled and a little bit insane. She had me in stitches.

On to books!

When the Cypress Whispers was released in April and I read the ARC (which I received from HarperCollins) before the release date but I was so far behind on my reviews that it's taken me a month to get around to reviewing. On the plus side, this week's reading slump has help me get closer to catching up!

Brief synopsis: 

Daphne is widowed and has worked very hard to make a life for herself and her daughter in New York. The child of Greek immigrants, she spent her summers with her Yia-yia (grandmother) on the island of Erikousa and now that she's about to marry again, she has a yearning to return, to marry in a place dear to her heart. She has always wished the mythical cypress whispers would call out to her but although they speak to her Yia-yia, Daphne is convinced the cypress whispers are a myth.  As she and her daughter settle in and are reminded of the ancient ways, she meets a fisherman who helps Daphne learn the depth of her grandmother's heart and the way to her own.

My feelings about When the Cypress Whispers are mixed. I loved the Greek setting for the armchair travel experience and I liked the WWII story about her grandmother but I thought there was something slightly uncomfortable about the writing style. I never did entirely get a grip on what it was that I disliked (apart from the fact that some parts were predictable) but I chose to ignore it and just enjoy the sense of place, which was almost visceral, as much about sensation as it was about tradition and beauty, history and one little island's fierce determination to cling to its identity. There's a feminist undercurrent which I was okay with till the end. I didn't think the ending fit the beginning and middle, primarily because I just couldn't reconcile what became of one character to the way that person was described throughout the novel. In other words, When the Cypress Whispers was lacking a crucial sense of balance.

Recommended - I liked the setting enough to give When the Cypress Whispers a 3.5/5 rating. I loved Daphne's daughter, her Yia-yia, the descriptions of island life, the fisherman, some of the other crazy characters. But, I disliked the ending and didn't really like the protagonist. I did sense a slight feminist agenda and, for the most part, I liked it. But, the way it came to the forefront in the ending felt awkward and wrong. Best to read for the sense of place and the characters.

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver was this month's F2F read and, once again, I missed the group discussion. But, this time it was because I was about 2/3 of the way into the book and loving it enough that I didn't want the ending spoiled. Copyrighted in 1993, my copy of Pigs in Heaven was purchased secondhand and has been sitting around for years. I'm glad the F2F group gave me that nudge I needed to actually open the book.

I don't know if Pigs in Heaven is the only follow-up to The Bean Trees (which I have not read) or there's another book but quick synopsis: Taylor adopted Turtle, a Cherokee who was abused and thrown into Taylor's car by a desperate woman. On a road trip, Turtle witnesses a man's fall into a hole at Hoover Dam and ends up on an Oprah episode dedicated to child heroes. A Cherokee lawyer sees Oprah and recognizes the Cherokee features on the little girl. She's convinced the adoption cannot possibly be legal and investigates. When Taylor finds out that lawyer Annawake wants to bring Turtle back to the tribe, she grabs Turtle and runs. But, as she becomes increasingly desperate and begins to miss her network of friends, she realizes that what's best for Turtle and herself may be the same thing from which she's running.

I've had one of those horrid reading weeks when you pick up a book, set it aside, pick up another and read a bit, drift off, try another book . . .  on and on. Nothing was clicking for me and that included Pigs in Heaven. I found the country accents (which didn't jibe with anything I've ever heard in Oklahoma or Mississippi) particularly annoying. But, then the story and its theme became apparent and I ended up absolutely loving Pigs in Heaven. I've read or heard a little about tribal law and the story was definitely plausible, from what I know. I also recognized imagery, for once. There are two flocks of birds -- pigeons and Canada geese -- that are considered unwelcome at different times and places in the books. The pigeons are killed, the geese relocated. Clearly, they represented the American Indian tribes who were murdered and relocated when the incoming whites decided they wanted the natives' land.

Highly recommended - A terrific story about the importance of family and identity as well as the painful history of Native Americans.  I acquired a copy of The Bean Trees secondhand, at the same time I bought Pigs in Heaven and I'm anxious to read that, as well.  I got a big kick when my hometown was mentioned, even if though it was brief and not descriptive. I miss home. I always will, I suppose.

©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, May 21, 2014

Two from Algonquin - The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by G. Zevin and Acts of God by E. Gilchrist

This has been a slow reading week and I haven't felt much like writing so today I'm going to pair the reviews of two books, both sent to me by Algonquin Books.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin has been one of the most talked-about, highly recommended books amongst my blogging, book-crazy friends, this year, so I asked if it would be possible to get a review copy when I was contacted by an Algonquin rep. She graciously sent me a copy, along with a couple other books I requested.  And, boy, does The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry deserve the buzz.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is about a widower who owns a bookstore on a remote island. He's considering giving up the bookstore when two things happen: a rare book that he hoped to make a great deal of money selling to finance his retirement is stolen and then a baby is dropped off at the store with a note pinned to her jacket. The mother wants her brought up around books, the father is unnamed. Fikry is taken by little Maya but is deeply depressed and accustomed to drinking heavily at night. Can the precocious little girl change a sad middle-aged man? Meanwhile, Fikry slowly develops a friendship with a quirky publicist, other plotty things happen.  I don't want to give away too much. Interspersed between the chapters are Fikry's thoughts about a variety of books and short stories (primarily classics), some with the tone of essays, some in letter form and more personal.

I heard that The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a book that is enjoyable for its bookishness.  The bookstore setting, Fikry's thoughts about books, his relationship with a publicist, the book groups that eventually become a part of the store's draw to island residents . . .  all those elements definitely add up to a pleasant yet challenging comfort read for bibliophiles. I also enjoyed the gradual changes in Fikry, the development of various relationships and even the sad, tender ending. I'm dying to reread the book specifically for the purpose of taking notes on the stories Fikry recommends and comparing thoughts with him. A couple other bloggers I've talked to have mentioned that same urge. I think it would be terribly fun to do as a group.

The only thing I disliked about The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is something that, upon reflection, might be a big of a spoiler, although I personally like to be forewarned about such things.  Still, I'm going to turn the text white and you can highlight it if you dare:

I disliked he fact that the protagonist eventually battles cancer. It was handled with grace, though, and not so detailed that it reminded me of my own horrible experience watching my mother die. At any rate, I loved the book so much that by the time the character became ill, I was already far too much in love with the reading to give up on it.

Highly recommended - I absolutely loved this bookish little gem. Definitely one of my favorites of the year. Although the book is fairly short at around 260 pages, I felt like the characters were well developed, the writing by turns sharp, humorous and touching, the story generally uplifting in spite of various tragedies. I will definitely reread The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

Acts of God (stories) by Ellen Gilchrist was sent to me unsolicited. I love short stories and often like to keep one volume of short stories going while I read a novel or two. Usually, I drag the reading out for quite some time but I did the reading of the stories in Acts of God over a couple days after a gap between the first few stories and those remaining.  I'll just tell you about a couple stories I loved:

"Acts of God", the title story, is about an elderly couple who are normally watched by a sitter. But, because of a hurricane, a disastrous chain of events occurs. The sitter is unable to show up for work and the elderly couple, Amelie and Will, become bored. They decide to go for a drive to the grocery store (which they normally would be prevented from doing) then take a detour to see some new homes being built.  I thought "Acts of God" was sad, a little sweetly humorous and beautiful.

"Miracle in Adkins, Arkansas" tells the story of a group of teenagers who drive to the site of a tornado to help with the recovery effort. What they discover is both heartbreaking and miraculous, leaving one of the teenagers convinced that she must focus on remembering every important moment: "I don't want all my memories lost in some fog like most people's are.  I am capturing mine every chance I get," she says at the end of the story. "Miracle in Adkins, Arkansas" is lovely, thoughtful and uplifting.

Unfortunately, those first two stories were my favorites and after that it was a mixed bag. Some I liked, some I didn't. In most cases, if I disliked them it was for reasons that are more personal than critical. I've only read one other book by Ellen Gilchrist, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (also a collection of short stories). It's an older title that I found secondhand and read in 2008. I'd completely forgotten about it till a few days ago when I was unloading boxes (yes, we're still occasionally unpacking, nearly 2 years post-move) and came across my copy, still loaded with Post-its.  I never did manage to review In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, although I loved it and I did at least write a post about the older cover of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams compared to a newer version. Hopefully, that bizarre newer cover has been updated, by now.

Recommended but not a favorite - I loved some of the stories in Acts of God, liked some, hated a few (but not because of the writing style; it was the characters or settings I disliked).  Definitely worth the time, even though it's not a personal favorite.

©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, May 19, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Cool covers, missed holidays, foiled TV-watching attempts

Last week was an interesting blogging week. First, I decided I would post a few children's book reviews if I had time. But I didn't know if I'd have time to do more than one so I opted not to call it a "Children's Day" as I've done in the past. I ended up posting three reviews of children's books in a single day and then I found out it was National Children's Book Week. Wish I'd known that!  Where do you go to find out all the book holidays in advance?  I never seem to know about them till either they're in progress or ending. After that day, though, I had a tour date and then I finished a book that I thought I needed to write about immediately. So that was the end of the children's book reviews, although I have plenty more waiting their turn in the review line. 

On to arrivals.  Not a single book came from a publisher, this week. I thought this week's arrivals had such an interesting variety of covers that it would be best to show them all.  And, then two more arrived after I photographed and uploaded these, so you get to see 4 out of 6.

Via Paperback Swap:

  • Citizens of London by Lynne Olson
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Captured by Scott Zesch

From friends:

  • The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith
  • Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • The Quick by Lauren Owen 

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • Acts of God (short stories) by Ellen Gilchrist
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
  • Echo Boy by Matt Haig

Currently reading:

  • One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver (for F2F group)

After closing Echo Boy, I must have picked up and read the beginnings of at least a half dozen different books and none of them clicked. So I went to bed Friday night without starting anything new. Saturday was much the same. Finally, I decided I'd better at least try to read my next tour book, One Night in Winter. It's probably a good book; there's nothing I dislike about it, although I find myself avoiding it. I think the problem rests in the fact that that I enjoyed the futuristic world of Echo Boy so much I'd kind of like to read something else that has that otherworldly sci-fi vibe. Anyway, I read a bit of One Night in Winter then I began reading Pigs in Heaven when I realized my F2F meeting is this week. I do have Time After Time by Jack Finney (time travel) to read, but my book group meets on Wednesday so I need to get as far as possible through Pigs in Heaven before picking up Time After Time. 

Foiled attempts at TV viewing:

Kiddo came home for the weekend and pretty much took over the TV so our plans to watch Matchstick Men were foiled for a couple days. And, then we turned it on and couldn't get past the first 20 minutes (neither of us was feeling patient with the slow beginning) so we watched 2 episodes of Spy, a British series that was canned right as it started to really get fun. We own both seasons on DVD and periodically watch an episode or two. I'm still in the mood for a movie but this year I've become unaccountably hooked on Dancing with the Stars. Since I tend to dislike reality TV, that's kind of surprising but I'm loving this season.

Okay, gotta go. The cats have gone from hyper to comatose during the time it's taken me to type this post. 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, May 16, 2014

Fiona Friday - Curiosity

©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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Copyright 2013
Pantheon Books - fiction  
Source:  Knopf Books

I just finished All the Birds, Singing, yesterday, and if I had no other obligations I'd read it all over, again.  It's literature with a tinge of horror and, fair warning, there is a good deal of graphic sex. If you're a regular at Bookfoolery, you know I absolutely hate graphic sex scenes but there are times I feel like they're necessary if they reveal some crucial aspect of the characterization or story. I think they were necessary, in this case, to vividly show the character's evolution -- where, how and why she became the tough, strong, loner who can shear a sheep as good as any man and better than some.

Brief synospis:

Jake Whyte lives on an isolated sheep farm in the British Isles, deliberately interacting only with a single neighbor, Don, the man who sold her the farm, or anyone she absolutely must encounter (like the girl at the local store).  Don tries to convince Jake that she should get to know people, if only by dropping into the local pub, now and then. But, Jake is a complex character with a past. She has run from some horror in her Australian homeland, a mysterious animal or person is savagely killing her sheep, and she has wicked scars on her back.  But what drove Jake all the way from Australia to Britain? How did she get those scars and what is killing her sheep?

There are two story lines, both told from Jake's perspective.  One is present tense and moves forward in real time; the other tells the story of her past in reverse order.  

My thoughts:

First and foremost, I was quite impressed with the author's skill. Given the harsh settings, coarse language and the well-described terror felt by the heroine, you would think I'd have abandoned All the Birds, Singing pretty quickly. I'm kind of a wimp. But, the story is so compelling that I absolutely couldn't bear to put All the Birds, Singing down. There are so many questions. What is happening to Jake's sheep? Where did those scars come from? Is she in imminent danger from either human or animal? If there really is an animal, is it real or a figment of her imagination? How did Jake end up alone on a sheep farm? What drove her out of Australia? 

As the story unfolds, more questions develop and the writing is so gutsy and mesmerizing, the protagonist so mysterious, the settings so atmospheric, the style so unusual that the scary scenes and the sexual -- the "yucky bits", as my F2F book group leader would say -- never felt like a barrier to the reading to me so much as critical building blocks. The title seems a bit odd unless you observe the imagery: birds appear whenever something major happens. I noticed that more on a subconscious level than a conscious one till I closed the book and pondered. 

What I really loved about All the Birds, Singing most is the growth of the character. You know from the beginning that she's muscular, physically strong, but emotionally vulnerable. Something in her dark past has wounded her and the physical scars appear to be a reflection of the internal. But, since you must read about her past in reverse, it takes quite a while to find out how she was scarred in both ways. And, the answers really surprised me. There's no heavy-handed hint-dropping. 

There is, perhaps unfortunately, an ambiguous ending. On the other hand, the ambiguity certainly lends the book that quality that makes for great discussion. For my part, I felt like I understood where Jake had come from, how she had been driven to increasing depths of despair, and I was actually quite satisfied with the ending even though at least one major question remains unanswered.

Cover thoughts:  The cover is one of my favorites of the year, thus far. It nicely portrays the fragmented method of writing, the fear of the unknown, the settings and the use of animals. I'm not knowledgeable about imagery but animals, both British and Australian, play a large role in the book and I did think some of them represented danger, whether real or imagined. I had to look a couple of the Australian critters up online.

Highly recommended - Impressive writing, in my humble opinion, literary with a touch of horror. If you can't bear graphic sex, language or descriptions of gore, you might want to skip this one, but I personally found that the descriptions were important to the plot. The book is fairly short at about 225 pages - no excessive wordiness, very tight writing yet truly captivating. I love that.

A review I love:  After writing my review, I dashed over to Goodreads and walking away for a bit, I got a little help understanding the imagery from one particularly perspicacious review of All the Birds, Singing by a fellow named Douglas Feil. There were some other reviews I loved but that one's my particular favorite.

©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, May 14, 2014

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
Copyright 2014 
Random House - fiction
Source: Random House via TLC Tours

Brief synopsis:  

WARNING - If you like to go into a story not knowing all the strands before they occur, please skip the description because it may contain some minor spoilers.  I went into the reading of Delicious! completely blind -- no reading of the cover blurb, no idea of what it was about -- and enjoyed the way the threads of the story were revealed and then tied together.

Something has driven Billie Breslin out of college and far from her California home. In New York, she finds a job writing for Delicious!, a magazine that has been published for over 100 years. As she slowly gets to know the people she works with, mysteries emerge about the characters and the building itself. Then, Delicious! is suddenly shut down and Billie is left alone to answer complaint calls and piece together the mystery of a hidden room, a series of letters written during WWII, and what became of the young lady who wrote to chef James Beard. As she works, both in the mansion that used to house Delicious! and the store of a cheesemonger, Billie slowly develops new friendships and begins to face the tragedy that drove her far from home.

My thoughts:

When I saw that Ruth Reichl had a new book coming out, I jumped right on the bandwagon. I didn't even notice that it was a novel!  No matter, though. Like her nonfiction, Ruth Reichl's first novel is full of descriptions that will make your mouth water, her first attempt at a novel surprisingly well-balanced and gripping. I particularly loved the WWII portions of the book. There's an interview with Ann Patchett at the back of the book -- a conversation, really -- in which they discuss the writing, the WWII letters and how the elements came to Reichl as she wrote. She claims to have known very little about WWII, which is surprising. Obviously, she's a very good researcher as she handled that well.

There were little things I disliked about Delicious!  Because Reichl's writing is very descriptive, the book is a bit over-long and probably could have been tightened a little. There's a lot of "savoring".  I honestly grew weary of that word, after a time.  And, the tragedy is completely transparent. I knew what had happened (not the details -- just in general) within 50 pages, although it's not revealed for quite some time.  I also have to admit that Sammy is a character I found a bit hard to believe in, although I liked him, and I didn't think there was a need for the ugly ducking to swan transformation. Billie was an interesting enough person to draw interest on her own merits before she was pushed to transform (by getting contacts, a haircut and a new wardrobe), which is good . . . but love doesn't fully come her way till after, which I found tad annoying.

None of the things I disliked about the book were enough to make me even remotely consider setting Delicious! down. I gobbled it up in a day, although it's nearly 400 pages and I'm a pretty slow reader.

Recommended - Foodies will particularly love reading the descriptions in Delicious! but it's a good novel, in general, so I also recommend it to those who like contemporary fiction, women's fiction, and romance. If you prefer minimalist writing, you might find yourself growing a little weary, but tight writing is my preference and I still enjoyed the various threads of the storyline enough that I was never tempted to set Delicious! aside.

Addendum:  Is that cover fabulous, or what?

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, May 13, 2014

How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon

How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon
Copyright 2014
Sterling Children's Books - Preschool to early reader
Source: Sterling

Clearly, Sterling sends me a lot of children's books and I've fallen behind in the reviewing but I absolutely love their books and How to Lose a Lemur is a personal favorite.  It starts out, "Everybody knows that once a lemur takes a liking to you, there is not much that can be done about it."

I read that first sentence and had no idea where the book was going to take me but then the first lemur starts to follow the little boy narrating and from there the book just gets cuter every time you turn the page.

The little boy tries hiding up a tree, riding away on his bike, and telling the lemurs to leave.  By this point, he has five lemurs following him, two of them clinging to his body and all of them smiling as he sternly insists that they must go away.  It doesn't work so he hops a train and then a boat:

And, so forth, with the little boy traveling in a hot air balloon, across the desert on a camel, climbing the highest mountain he can find and walking through a forest.  And, then he realizes he's lost and alone.  But, of course, he's not alone because the familiar faces of the five lemurs that have followed him everywhere appear.  They take him by the hand and lead him back home.

And, then he realizes maybe it's not so bad being friends with a lemur, after all.  Or, five, in this case, the theme being that it's a good idea to give new people a chance if they want to be your friend.

Highly recommended:  I know I've highly recommended all three of the last books I've reviewed but I really think the quality is exceptional.  How to Lose a Lemur is the kind of book you stick your nose up to to sniff, but even more important it's a good story with wonderful illustrations and a solid theme. And, the lemurs are so freaking cute. I smiled all the way through the reading of this book.  It's definitely one I'll hang onto for future grandchildren and the kind that makes me want to run out and find a child to read to.

©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.

Tooth & Claw: The Wild World of Big Predators by Jim Arnosky

Tooth & Claw by Jim Arnosky
Copyright 2014 
Sterling Children's Books 
Source: Sterling

The photograph flattens out the color of the words "Tooth & Claw" but on the cover jacket, the lettering is actually raised gold.  Beneath the jacket is the same image but without the raised lettering, but it's still lovely. When I had little ones, I tended to just toss aside jackets whose covers were the same to use for art projects or to keep them looking nice if the kids didn't feel like chopping them up.

Brief synopsis:

A book about large predators, sixth in a series. Bold illustrations in acrylic and pencil show various big cats, bears and wolves, their paw prints and (where applicable) the type of spot patterns in their fur.  Fold-over pages open up to 3-page spreads throughout the book.

My thoughts:

I'm a little leery of books that have fold-out pages because they do tend to get torn up pretty easily but I'm familiar with Jim Arnosky's artwork and . . . well, just look at this spread -- you should be able to enlarge it:

Doesn't that just take your breath away? His illustrations are absolutely stunning. Gorgeous colors, enough to make you feel a little like cringing when you see those teeth up close and personal. And, as the text is obviously geared to older children rather than very little ones, I think the fold-out pages are a lesser concern than those made for younger children.

I haven't seen any of the other books in this particular series but I like Tooth & Claw not only because of the full-color illustrations but also because of the informative pencil sketches.

I neglected to take a picture of one of my favorite spreads, which shows the different spot patterns on leopards, jaguars and cheetahs, which I found particularly interesting.  Because one of my children was a fan of big cats, I'd love it if the book had been dedicated to big cats alone but the mix of predators in Tooth & Claw is a good one.

Highly Recommended - I would love to see some of the other books in this series to get a better idea of the series as a whole, but the others are listed on the back of the book's cover jacket:

  • Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature's Footprints
  • Slither and Crawl: Eye to Eye with Reptiles
  • Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators
  • Creep and Flutter: The Secret World of Insects and Spiders
  • Shimmer and Splash: The Sparkling World of Sea Life

Three of these books are award winners, parents choice recommendations and/or listed as favorites by some organization.  Jim Arnosky's illustrations are so beautifully detailed that I'm not surprised. His enthusiasm for nature really does show through the text, as well, as he talks about observing and sketching the animals.

I reviewed one other book illustrated by Jim Arnosky, some time ago: Man Gave Names to All the Animals by Bob Dylan.  Isabel was still a kitten when I reviewed Man Gave Names to All the Animals; there's a photo of her near Fiona when they were still getting used to each other, in that post.  So cool to look back and remember those early days. It's hard to believe we've had these two girls for so long.

©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.

Who's in the Tree? by Craig Shuttlewood

Who's in the Tree and Other Lift-the-Flap Surprises by Craig Shuttlewood
Copyright 2014
Sterling Children's Books - Preschool and up
Source: Sterling

I was just flipping through my list of books read and realized I haven't reviewed this book.  It's so cute I can't possibly skip it, even though I'm a month or two behind, so I reread the book and took some interior photos.

Brief synopsis:

A lift-the-flap book in which something beneath the flap is out of place.  Where does the item really belong? Why doesn't it belong in the place shown? Children can lift the flap for a giggle and a lesson about where things belong and where they don't.

Here's an example of a page spread and the animal beneath the flap (click on image to enlarge).  Please note that the illustration colors vary depending upon the angle of the book just a bit so it's difficult to get a perfect representation of the colors in these page spreads.

Although the penguin does say, "It's too HOT here for me!" that is not always the case. In some cases, one will need to explain to a preschooler why an animal is out of place. The animal beneath the flap in a jungle illustration is an octopus, for example.

My thoughts:

I absolutely adore the illustrations in this book -- so much that I'm tempted to cut it up and turn it into bookmarks.  But, don't worry, I won't.  I would happily photograph the entire book interior to show off the illustrations if I felt like that would be appropriate.

Highly Recommended - Love the concept of something out of place for the sake of laughter and discussion and the illustrations are wonderful. My only caution is the expected one, that the book is best for children who are past the ripping stage or those who can sit quietly while being read to and having a parent lift the flaps.

©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, May 12, 2014

Monday Malarkey - The startling results of not planning

Holy Toledo.  I said I had no big blogging plans, last Monday, but I certainly didn't plan for the blog to float to the top of the aquarium on its side looking waxy and pale, last week.

So . . . last week was uneventful but here you go, starting with arrivals:

Top to bottom:

  • Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger - from Touchstone for review
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen - from Harper for review
  • The Visitors by Sally Beauman - from Harper for review
  • The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams - from a friend
  • Natchez Burning by Greg Iles - from William Morrow for review

Side note:

I just sneezed so fiercely I scared Fiona right out of the room. She actually made a mrr..mrr..mrrrph sound as she ran away, which means, "You just scared the socks off me, Mom."  Sorry, Fi.  This is not my favorite time of the year for exactly that reason (and because of the poison ivy and the bumblebees drilling holes to nest in my deck).

Last week's posts:

Seriously, that's all!  2 posts!  But, Itch Rocks generated some fun chatter on Twitter and I was very happy to find out there will be a third Itch book from the author. So, it was a fun week for response, if not a productive one for reviewing, in general.

Books finished:

  • Outrageous Fortune by Anthony Russell (memoir) - Although I got a kick reading about the places he went to school, played cricket and lived in London (because I've stayed in and walked that area and know it pretty well), the book was enough of a disappointment that I'm not going to bother reviewing it and passing it on to our friend in London. It is mostly about the author's childhood and how living a life of privilege -- zipping between a huge house with servants in London and his grandmother's castle in Leeds, along with some fabulous family vacations -- caused him difficulty as an adult. There's almost nothing about his adulthood, no word about how he overcame the difficulties that privilege caused, nor even how he met his wife and ended up in the United States. Humbug.
  • Delicious! by Ruth Reichl - Preventive reading. I'll be touring Delicious! on Wednesday, so I decided to dive in early. Delicious! is Reichl's first novel.
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - A book that is so good I'm going to buy a copy to replace the ARC that I'm obligated to pass on to a friend.
  • Acts of God by Ellen Gilchrist - This one's going to be rough to review but I'll try.

Currently reading:

  • Echo Boy by Matt Haig - I set this aside to read Delicious! and then decided to read We Were Liars (a one-evening read because I started it Friday, although I then decided to reread the beginning on Saturday -- it's that kind of book; you will want to read it at least twice) and then I decided to finish up Acts of God. Tonight I'll dive back into Echo Boy
  • All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld - Seriously creepy.  There are parallel storylines with a present-day portion in which the heroine, Jake, is increasingly freaked out by the uncommonly brutal deaths of her sheep and a past storyline that appears to be moving backwards in time. My spine is crawling but at the same time I'm finding the book so compelling that it's hard to put down.

TV, but no movies, again:

I probably should have watched a movie, instead. On Friday night, I happened across a back-to-back showing of the first two episodes of the new 24.  I never actually watched the original 24, but I was seduced by the advertisements showing London in the background of the new series. What a disappointment! London only occasionally makes an appearance. The rest of the time, the setting could easily be the bad side of any American city (and, in truth, it usually does look more stateside than British) with a few British props like a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side and a few signs using British spelling. A bit of Trafalgar Square, a train going overground -- that's about all that looks genuine. If you want to enjoy an English setting, 24 is definitely not the show to watch.

I also watched a portion of Elementary, this past week, but turned it off.  Last week, the nasty body Sherlock and Mycroft dug up gave me a nightmare.  This week, I decided that I adore Rhys Ifans as the magnetically enigmatic Mycroft but -- although I've enjoyed him in other roles -- Jonny Lee Miller simply does not feel right for the role of Sherlock.  Knowing that he comes and goes, Rhys isn't enough to keep me watching. Love him, though.

Also, Penny and Leonard made me cry during Thursday's episode of The Big Bang Theory. I blame it on fatigue.

That's all, for now.  

Hopefully this will be a better posting week.  I am weary of having such a tremendous backlog of books to review.

©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, May 09, 2014

Fiona Friday - Sleeping Beauties

©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, May 07, 2014

Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo

Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo
Copyright 2014
Splinter - Young Adult (second in a series)
Source: Sterling Books

I reviewed the first book in this series, Itch (link at left leads to my review), last April and loved it so much that I went hunting for a copy of Itch Rocks in London, knowing it had already been released in the UK.  None of the stores I visited had a copy (not even the flagship Foyle's store!) so I was very excited when I got an offer to review Itch Rocks.  

Brief synopsis:

After disposing of Element 126, a new element that is extremely radioactive and also valuable for its potential as an alternative energy source, Itchingham Lofte and his cousin Jack have been treated for radiation poisoning and now they're the most protected children in England. Security people from MI5 follow Itch, his sister Chloe and his cousin Jack to school.  Agents stand outside the classroom and, in case of serious danger, they lock down the house (and the neighbor's house, which they've taken over).  It all seems rather extreme to Itch and his family. But, Greencorps still wants Element 126 and the evil former science teacher, Flowerdew is back, along with the woman he let take the blame for a Nigerian disaster, Shivvi Tan Fook. After being jailed for years and forgotten, she's very, very angry. 

When Itch and Jack are forced to retrieve Element 126, will they be able to survive to fight off the bad guys and find a way to destroy Element 126 for good?  

My thoughts:

I don't want to give away any of what occurred in the first book so let's just say Itch did a good job of disposing of the dangerous element but there was a trail of clues that he wasn't aware existed and that's what ends up leading the characters back to the place the first book ended.  It didn't bother me that eventually the characters end up in that same spot because the rest of the story is quite different. 

I liked reading about MI5 operatives taking Itch, Chloe and Jack to school, even when nothing was happening. There was just a cool spy vibe to those portions of the book and when, eventually, things start to go haywire and blow up (literally), when even MI5 isn't able to stop the bad guys, the story becomes truly exciting. Shivvi is a very frightening character and Itch must use his knowledge of chemistry and the elements to get away from her, with Jack serving as his sidekick and moral compass. There is an additional character, Lucy, whose purpose isn't entirely clear till the end of the book but who also serves as a minor love interest for Itch.  

Although Itch is the main character, Jack is very important in both books, which is nice for adventure-loving females. As in the first book, Itch, there is a lot of exciting action and I loved the way the author ended this book in such a definitive way that you know if Itch comes back, future stories will not involve an Element 126.  The ending was very satisfying and the second story isn't quite as disgusting. Some icky smells and melting hair and skin (okay, yeah, that's pretty gross) are about the extent of it. At some point, I talked to Simon Mayo -- honestly, I have no idea where, maybe Twitter? -- and I recall him telling me that there were some disgusting bits in Itch Rocks but not to the same extreme as in Itch.  Thank goodness.  More fictional vomiting would have driven me away forever, but I enjoyed myself thoroughly and hope Simon Mayo will write more action/adventure for young adults.

Highly recommended - A rocking fine follow-up to the original novel, Itch, with every bit as much action and adventure but fewer disgusting scenes. The action is exciting, the added bad gal suitably terrifying, and the ending satisfying. Loved both books and I highly recommend them but do be advised that both can be a little gory and violent, at times, so there are difficult moments if you have a weak stomach. I found Itch Rocks more tolerable in that regard than Itch but I enjoyed both immensely. I love a good action read and Itch and Itch Rocks are both loads of adventurous fun.

Update:  I've spoken to the author via Twitter and a third Itch book called Itchcraft is scheduled for release in the UK in September! Excitement!  I guess that means I have at least a year to wait for the American release.  Fortunately, Itch is a memorable character.  Simon Mayo has promised a "shiny new thing" to follow the final Itch book. 

©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.