Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DNF - Child Witch Kinshasa by Mike Ormsby

I haven't done a DNF post in quite a while but I think Child Witch Kinshasa is worth mentioning and I got farther into it than I do most books that I set aside. The book is just under 500 pages long and I stopped at p. 130.

Child Witch Kinshasa is about two people, a British man by the name of Frank Kean and an African boy named Dudu. Frank has arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo to train journalists but during his first night he hears chanting, drumming and screams that sound like a child in pain.

Dudu's father was killed when he stepped on a land mine during a recent war. His uncle Moses has become the head of the family but the bar Moses owns is failing and he's convinced that there is sorcery keeping him from succeeding. The local tradition is to blame adversity on children, accusing them of witchcraft and paying a minister to perform unspeakably cruel exorcisms to frighten away the demons by which they're allegedly possessed. The "ministers" who perform these rituals are, in fact, only after power and money.

You can figure out where this is headed. Dudu and his younger brother are accused of witchcraft and Dudu must escape. Frank finds out about the exorcisms and discovers that they're not even considered newsworthy by the locals, so he makes it his mission to bring attention to the children's plight. Eventually, he meets Dudu but I didn't make it to that point.

Where I stopped:

This may be a bit of a spoiler so I'm going to turn the text white and you can highlight it if you dare.

Dudu has already been accused of witchcraft and has managed to escape but someone has stolen his money and he's been abandoned by the people who promised to help. 

Why I decided not to read on:

First, let me just say that I would not have made it so far if this book wasn't solidly written. There were a few times I thought, "This sentence could stand some tightening," and I've mentally crossed out a few words, but Child Witch Kinshasa is a compelling story and it's based on a current practice. Children are still being accused of witchcraft and tortured. When the author pitched his book to me, I was not interested for pretty much the same reason I can't bear to read on, but he was persistent because it's important to him.

Having said that, I must admit that the book was giving me that, "I don't feel like reading tonight," sensation that you get when you really don't want to continue but are having trouble admitting it to yourself. Child Witch Kinshasa is, in other words, just a bit too nerve-racking for this reader.

Why I'd still recommend it:

I think the story is an important one because it's something that -- much like human trafficking -- exists and is known but not necessarily widely. And, because it's culturally embedded, the practice is not likely to stop without some sort of outside intervention. So, the more people know about child exorcism in the Congo, the more likely something will be done to stop it. Also, it really is a pretty good read. It seems odd to say that the reading was going pretty quickly and yet I stopped. I don't very often abandon a book because it unsettles me. I'm okay with being unsettled. But, if I start to feel like I'd rather not read at all than continue, it's time to move on.

Child Witch Kinshasa is a self-published novel by Mike Ormsby (CreateSpace). I know it's available at Amazon but beyond that I'm uncertain. I received my copy directly from the author. There is a sequel: Child Witch London. I was kind of hoping I'd tolerate the book so I could read its sequel, since I love a London setting.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Bad week, good week

Isabel displays how I felt, last week:

Last week was a pretty bad week, at least at the beginning, in case you were wondering about the lack of posts. When it rains heavily, our internet service hiccups so badly that it's often not even worth bothering to try to get online and we had storms, storms, storms (which also meant migraine trouble). I also had a blog issue I had to deal with and since the "hide" button seems to have disappeared, I temporarily set the blog to private mode while I was making sure I had caught everything that needed to be fixed. If you know how to remove a blog from view at Blogger without going to the extreme of changing the privacy setting, please let me know.

Later in the week, the weather cleared up (again, good and bad -- without rain, we also lost the cloud cover and breeze) but by then I was so weary from attempting to get online that I decided not to bother with reviews.

Last week's arrivals:

  • Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression, ed. by Robt. Cohen, and
  • Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard - both via Paperback Swap

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished last week:

  • Extreme Food by Bear Grylls
  • Black Box by Julie Schumacher
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck

I decided to go ahead and bulldoze my way through Extreme Food but it wasn't anywhere near the cringe-worthy read I expected, in the end. Yes, there are times he talks about really disgusting ideas for meals (worms and eggs cooked together -- I don't like eggs on their own so they wouldn't be much help in disguising the taste of worms -- and other bugs and slimy things) but there was less of that than anticipated and I learned a few things. Chief among them was how an alligator kills people with a "death roll". Coincidentally, there was just an article about a man saving his son from an alligator in the news, today. So glad that story had a happy ending. 

Black Box is a book about a girl who is going through severe depression but it's told from the viewpoint of her sister and I think that gave the book enough distance to keep it from being depressing, itself. I particularly liked the ending.

I haven't actually finished The Pearl but I'm about to, as soon as I finish up this post. There's yet another storm brewing. I'd better hurry. I can already say The Pearl is my least favorite Steinbeck but I do love his writing style. 

Currently reading:

  • Child Witch Kinshasa by Mike Ormsby

No Pamela, again, but I keep telling myself I'm going to get back to finishing Pamela, eventually. Child Witch Kinshasa is a chunkster so it may take me all week, depending upon how much reading time I manage to squeeze in. Usually, when I'm reading a chunkster I add some other reading material to give me the occasional break but I haven't chosen what I'll read after I finish The Pearl.

Must dash. Happy reading!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fiona Friday - Those eyes

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Flash Readathon and all that went with it

If you're a Facebook or Twitter friend, you may have seen pics of my reading buddies hanging out with me during this past weekend's #flashreadathon but here's what you missed:

Yep, the ever-patient Fiona got another squashing from her little sister, Isabel. They were both hanging out on my legs while I read on the bed. That's pretty rare and, of course, I loved it. Kiddo (who graduated from college and is temporarily moving home) had cranked the air conditioner down so low that we were all cold.

So . . . I hadn't actually finished a single book till this weekend and I'm really, really happy that there was an excuse to sit and read. The guys were away, working on cleaning and emptying Kiddo's apartment and that meant I had a nice, long stretch of quiet time. The only really pressing thing I needed to do around the house was laundry. At some point, I completely ran out of laundry!! Cool or what? I'm not the most focused person but I got 3 books finished and 5 loads of laundry done. On to the malarkey.

Last week's arrivals:

  • Life in a Box is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin (purchased)
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (sent by friend)

Posts since last week's Malarkey:

Books finished last week:

  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
  • Life in a Box is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin 
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Such a great reading weekend. Crooked Heart (a July release) is a WWII book that is absolutely pitch-perfect and by far one of my favorite reads of 2015. Life in a Box is a Pretty Life is a hard read -- poetry about painful topics: being black, being a woman, being victim-blamed, racially profiled or judged based on color or sexuality. Her writing style is odd and cryptic; at times I felt like I was trying to decipher code. But, sometimes it just smacks you in the face. It is really powerful stuff.

And, of course, Eleanor & Park. Everyone I know has read it. Friend Tammy insisted that I must read it urgently so I checked it out from the library, whipped through it, and then had to chew out all my friends for not telling me it's got an ugly-cry ending. I was so not expecting the waterworks . . . and I'm telling you, it just went on and on. What a moving book.

Currently reading:

Oh, who knows. No Pamela, last week. I'm halfway through Extreme Food by Bear Grylls but I'm in the yucky part. Maybe will try to barrel through that so I can move on. And, I'll probably start a new fiction read, tonight, but I haven't yet decided between the three that are calling out to me. I did not manage to finish The Boys in the Boat before my F2F meeting but I keep telling myself, "One chapter a night would be good. That way you'll eventually finish!" and then I pick up whatever fiction I'm reading, instead. So, it's hard to say what will happen (well, not too difficult, actually). The discussion was great. I suspect the problem has more to do with the fact that I'm reading an e-book than anything else. I really, truly dislike e-books. But, maybe the topic is just not my thing.

In other news, I've discovered marbles are pretty fun to photograph (and Fiona thought they were exceptionally cool toys when I made my first attempt at marble photography on the floor):

This week's vacation obsession is Europe. I haven't been there, not really. I mean, a weekend in France, that's all. So, I'm pondering a trip to Europe alone, maybe on a tour with a bunch of old ladies. Husband actually thinks that would be fine and dandy since he's been so many places without me. Anyone want to go on an old-lady tour with me?

Happy almost-Tuesday!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fiona Friday - What was that?

Isabel was studiously ignoring my attempts to photograph her when she heard a noise. Love the curious look. 

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
Copyright 2015 (Release date: July 15)
William Morrow - Fiction
384 pp., incl. glossary

Behind a row of mulberry trees was our neighbor's orchard, separated from ours by a high clay wall. As I spent more time in the shade of the mulberry trees, I began to feel I wasn't alone. It was different from the time I'd seen my guardian angel. This time the presence felt earthly. This time the presence sneezed. 

~p. 38 of Advance Reader Copy, When the Moon is Low (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

While I was reading When the Moon is Low, I mentioned that I had to reread the first 22 pages because they didn't leave an impression and that I was continuing to find it a struggle to get into. It is, as I said, a quiet and very understated sort of novel. But, I wanted to give the book a fair shot and, while the pace was fairly slow, particularly in the beginning, I did eventually find that I wanted to know what was going to happen.

When the Moon is Low tells the story of Fereiba. Beginning when she was a small child and realized that she was the cause of her mother's death (from childbirth complications), Fereiba describes her distant father, the arrival of a stepmother and several sisters and her first love. I'm pretty sure that her marriage is the ending of Book 1, but I just flipped through the book and couldn't find the dividing line. Fereiba's arranged marriage, though, begins an entirely different phase of her life.

After marriage, Fereiba and her husband have two children. He works as an engineer and she is a teacher but the Taliban's power ends her career. When tragedy strikes and Fereiba is left to manage on her own, that's really when the book becomes particularly interesting. At one point, a heavily pregnant Fereiba is in pain and tries to make her way to the hospital but she's sent home because the man accompanying her (a neighbor) is neither her husband or a relative.

The latter part of the book is about the family's life as refugees after Fereiba decides that in order to survive she must take her children and try to make her way to England, where one of her stepsisters lives. The storyline then begins to alternate between the viewpoints of Fereiba and her eldest son, Saleem, who eventually becomes separated from the rest of the family.

What I really loved about When the Moon is Low was the way Hashimi laid out the facts through Fereiba's eyes. I've heard about how Afghanistan went from a country where women worked and dressed like women in the western world to a place where women are covered from head to toe and not allowed out in public but there are certain aspects of that change that hadn't occurred to me, like the fact that the disappearance or death of a husband meant no income, no way to go out to buy groceries if you have money, really the complete impossibility for a single mother to function at all.

And, the view of life as a refugee is also fascinating. I've read about what it's like for refugees, having to sell their possessions to pay ridiculous fees to people smugglers, only to end up begging in a country that allows no path to citizenship or caught and sent back to the country from which one escaped. When the Moon is Low does a very good job of giving you perspective of the refugee experience. There's a lot to think about.

I disliked the slow pace of When the Moon is Low, but once I became invested in the lives of Fereiba and Saleem (and the other two children, who have lesser roles), I did find myself eager to get back to the reading, each day. But, I gave the book only a slightly above-average rating, both because of the pace and the fact that it's good but not a particularly elegant work of writing. There were times I felt the urge to reach for a red pen. I did find the ending satisfying and I'm glad I read When the Moon is Low. I have not read Nadia Hashimi's first book, The Pearl that Broke its Shell, so I can't compare the two.

Recommended - While not a favorite, When the Moon is Low is a fairly well-written book that nicely illuminates both the changes in Afghanistan that took place upon the rise of the Taliban and what it's like to be a refugee. I found the storytelling slightly devoid of emotion. There were moments that it was tense or deeply sad or frightening; it's well plotted if slow-paced. I just never felt any huge rush of emotion during those moments. Still, a good book that I recommend for a time when you want to read a quiet, character-centered novel.

Side note: In the ARC, Fereiba's husband is described as a mechanical engineer, although it sounds like the work he does is that of a civil engineer. I noticed he's described as a civil in one of the book blurbs I read, so that little detail may reflect one of those rare instances in which something was changed prior to publication. I don't have access to a finished copy (it's not out yet, after all), so I'm unable to find out if a change has been made.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
Copyright 2014
Corgi (an imprint of Random House UK) - Suspense/Crime
399 pp. incl. Q & A with author

You already know I won Keep Your Friends Close and another of title from the author, Paula Daly, if you hang around here much. Well, I was just emerging from a slower-paced title and craving a quicker pace when the two books walked in the door. I kept looking at this one and I love the cover; it's appealing in a creepy way and just looked like something suspenseful enough to keep the pages flying. So, I gave in within 24 hours of the book's arrival.

Good decision. Keep Your Friends Close is the story of Natty, a woman whose family owns a hotel and house next door to each other in England's Lake District. How Natty and her husband Sean managed to acquire such a prime bit of property is never mentioned but they have succeeded due to a lot of hard work, drive extraordinarily expensive cars to show for it, and clearly cater to a wealthy clientele.

Natty is obsessive to the point of neglecting her husband and even her health. She's growing a bit too thin. Her children are her other priority. Alice is a bit sulky. Felicity is more laid-back. Felicity is on a school trip to France as the book opens and Natty is cleaning like a madwoman. She's so obsessive about cleanliness that it's almost a family joke; she even follows the maids, whom she thinks not quite dedicated enough to do the job right.

Natty's best friend from college is dropping by for a visit. Just as Eve arrives, though, Natty receives a dramatic call from Felicity's teacher. Felicity has fallen ill and is in surgery. It's unknown whether or not she'll survive. Natty hastily packs and Eve offers to watch after Alice and the hotel but Sean can only get a single ticket on the next flight and Natty insists that she must be the one to go. Their manager is on vacation so Sean ends up remaining behind at Natty's request, even when he's able to join her.

And, here is where the suspense begins. Eve is a dangerous woman who has set her sights on Sean, a man neglected enough that he's easily wooed. By the time Natty and Felicity return, Sean and Eve are a couple. Shocked to her core, Natty becomes irrational and gets into a bit of trouble. But, when Natty begins to suspect that there's something bigger going on than just a friend stealing her husband, she discovers that Eve is not the person she claims to be. Through the combined efforts of Natty and a detective named Joanne, Eve's history begins to form. But, will it be too late for Natty and her family?

Highly recommended - A genuine page-turner. There were some moments that I thought, "This is a bit implausible," but I didn't care. I found Keep Your Friends Close addictively readable and was astonished at how many times the author surprised me. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen next . . . nope, wrong again. And, every time I put it down I kept thinking, "Argh, I want to read!!!" I love that. I'm looking forward to reading the other Paula Daly book I won in that Twitter drawing and particularly recommend Keep Your Friends Close for beach, train or plane reading.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
Copyright 2015 (published in May)
Sterling Publishing - Children's picture book, ages 3-7
32 pp.

Ally is a little girl who likes dinosaurs and likes to pretend she is a dinosaur. On her first day of school, she isn't able to take her stuffed dinosaurs but she can take her imagination with her. At first, things are a little off-kilter. While Ally-saurus (the name she calls herself) eats her snack with a roar, the other children are quiet and subdued.

Then Ally has to cut a nameplate for her cubby (in the shape of a dinosaur, of course) and the boy at her table imagines he's an astronaut while he cuts his nameplate in the shape of a spaceship.

The entire book continues in this vein, with a crayon outline showing each child's imagination at work. At times, Ally is dismayed by the reaction of others. But eventually she begins to settle in, finds friends, and realizes that other imaginations don't have to match up with her own. Everyone can still have a great time playing pretend. Later in the book, Ally and her class go to the library, where they're each allowed to check out a single book.

And, the next morning, having checked out a book about rabbits, Ally hops out of bed imagining that she's a bunny.

Highly recommended - I absolutely love this creative story about imagination and being true to yourself. The crayon outline . . . I have a feeling I've seen this somewhere in the past, but I'm not certain. It's a lovely way to show how a child is imagining herself. I know my children would have absolutely loved this story at a younger age and so would I. This one's a keeper.

Note: I received my copy of Ally-Saurus and The First Day of School from Sterling Kids in exchange for an honest review. My copy came with a poster that says, "Read a book and let your imagination RUN WILD! Be a princess, a pirate, or even a dinosaur!" The illustration is the one you see in the left page of the library scene, above. Perfect for classroom or library!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Such as it is

This is a wee bit closer to what I expected of last week's malarkey -- another not particularly productive or bookish week, but not a bad one. In fact, one of my arrivals saved the week from becoming overly dreary (which it very well could have done, given the quantity of rain).

Last week's arrivals:

  • Keep Your Friends Close and
  • Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

I won both books from the author in a twitter drawing and had just finished reading a book with slow pacing so I was craving a fast-paced read. I chose Keep Your Friends Close because it sounded like the kind of book I was looking for. Sure enough, the pages flew. I just finished Keep Your Friends Close, last night, and it was extremely satisfying. More on that, later.

Posts since last week's Twaddle:

Not a big posting week. I've begun working on my Ally-saurus review (a children's book) so hopefully that bodes well for a productive blogging week. If not, I'm not going to sweat it. At some point, I need to restock my hurricane supplies because we do have a tropical depression on the verge of turning into a tropical storm in the Gulf. Although it looks like it's not predicted to come our way, it serves as a good reminder that it's time to stock up on water, batteries and dry foods. And, I suppose I should buy a couple fresh fire extinguishers, since we had a small kitchen fire yesterday (no damage) - another reminder that one should occasionally refresh the supply as extinguishers do have an expiration date, from my understanding.

Books finished last week:

  • When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
  • Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly 

Currently reading:

  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson - Didn't read any of Pamela till last night and after reading a fast-paced suspense? Argh, my eyes were rolling. I'd really, really like to get done with Pamela soon, but I'm not sure if this will be the week it happens. 
  • I haven't settled on a second fiction read but I still have Bear Grylls' book sitting by the bedside and will read more of it, today. 
  • I read a little bit of The Boys in the Boat By Daniel James Brown for F2F book group discussion and must admit I was bored out of my mind. Maybe it would be better to read a paper copy? I keep finding myself looking at how many minutes I have till the end of the chapter. If you've read The Boys in the Boat, tell me . . . does it improve? I haven't gotten very far.

In other news:

I need a vacation. The mountains would be nice . . . or somewhere exotic. How's your life going?

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fiona Friday - Starring both kitties

Fiona looks skeptical (but she was really just sleepy):

Izzy looks surprised (and she was):

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Temptation by Vaclav Havel

(The DIRECTOR steps up to FOUSTKA; FOUSTKA stands up. The DIRECTOR places his hand on his shoulder and gravely looks at him for a short while.)

DIRECTOR (gently): I'm counting on you, Henry.

FOUSTKA: For the soap?

DIRECTOR: The soap and everything else!

Out of context, the excerpt above may sound odd but in Vaclav Havel's Faustian play, Temptation, it's actually pretty funny because it's meaningless. In Temptation, Foustka is the Faust character who is tempted by the devilish Fistula, a man with a smelly foot fungus. Foustka is a scientist but the playwright leaves the work of the scientists ambiguous. All we know is that black magic is taboo and Foustka has been studying the occult for some time. When Fistula offers Foustka the chance to further his career and expand his love life by dabbling in the dark arts, Foustka is at first resistant but then gives in with the expected results (selling your soul never works out).

Temptation is by far the most light-hearted version of Faust that I've ever read and I enjoyed it immensely. I've read a few other stories that were obviously based on Faust but I didn't realize just how many similarly Faustian works of art exist (including poetry, plays, novels, music) until I looked up "novels based on Faust" on Google and came across this Wikipedia entry: Works based on Faust. And, it's not all-inclusive. Fascinating, this human obsession with temptation by the devil. As it turned out, I've read a lot more works based on Faust than I realized. I know I've read at least three others since I began blogging but I can find only two posts and can't recall the name of the third. Here are links to my reviews of the two I do recall:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oliver Wilde
Faustine by Emma Tennant

There were distasteful characters and moments in Temptation but I found the levity in Temptation made the reading unusually satisfying, although near as I can tell I've enjoyed every version of Faust I've read except The Phantom of the Opera. That one was a DNF, although I may give it a second go, eventually. I did enjoy the play, but mostly because I was excited to see Welsh actor John Owen-Jones (who has also played Jean Valjean) in person.

Recommended - I'd love to see Temptation on stage but it was definitely entertaining reading the play and imagining the acting. An unusually amusing version of Faust.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Tuesday Twaddle - Like Monday Malarkey, only chewier

Up until Saturday of last week, not a single book had arrived and I thought, given the fact that it was also not much of a reading week, that there was going to be no malarkey to speak of. Or, twaddle (same thing). And, then Saturday happened. On Saturday I had to pick up a book from the library and the library sale just happened to be going on. Since I left Huzzybuns in the car, I had to move quickly and this is what I grabbed:

Library sale books, top to bottom:

  • City of Glass by Paul Auster
  • The Little Black Book of Stories by A. S. Byatt
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabel - oops, wrong stack; that's one that arrived in the mail on Saturday; purchased after reading one of Hrabel's other books
  • Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
  • Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
  • Dragon's Lair by Sharon K. Penman
  • South by Ernest Shackleton - Not sure, but I may already have a copy of this one. If so, one of them will be re-donated.

And, then, all of the above arrived yesterday:

  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans,
  • The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch, and 
  • French Concession by Xiao Bai - all three titles from Harper for review
  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - from St. Martin's Press to reread for Q/A with the author

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal 
  • Temptation by Vaclav Havel

Both of the books I finished were around 100 pages. Between dealing with the aftermath of last week's hole in the ceiling and other clean-up in preparation for the arrival of furniture, last week just wasn't a big reading week. I came across Temptation while I was hunting for a classic that a friend was considering reading. Technically, Temptation should have been shelved with other plays rather than classics (I think) but I'm glad I found it.

Currently reading:

  • When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi - A July release. I read 22 pages the first night I opened When the Moon is Low and then realized I remembered almost nothing when I woke up. So, I started over and am about 60 pages in, at the moment. It's an understated story and each time I pick it up I have to flip back a few pages to see what recently happened. Hopefully, it will become more memorable as the story progresses.
  • Extreme Food by Bear Grylls - I'm on p. 90 out of 259 pages. I'm finding pluses and minuses to Extreme Food, at this point. If you carry it with you when traveling/camping (especially after a first reading so you'll know what specific items to gather) it could definitely help you survive if disaster were to occur. I'm on the section about fishing and Bear is telling me how to make my own hook, find bait, determine where the best spot is to fish, etc. -- good stuff. But, I recently read the part about mushrooms and got the impression that unless you plan to study mushrooms, as in, buy a big guidebook with full-color photos and get an expert to help teach you, Bear's section on mushrooms is fairly useless (in fact, he pretty flatly says you really need a concise guide if you ever plan to eat them) because there are far too many dangerous mushrooms that look almost identical to those that are edible. At least he's honest. I'm enjoying the book, although it's one that is, I think, best in small doses so you can sit back and let the information sink in. 
  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson. . . of course. I only picked up Pamela twice, this week, and read briefly. Fortunately, Pamela is the kind of novel that you can set aside for a week or a month and have no problem continuing when you get around to picking it up, again. That's probably because the characters have a tendency to drive topics into the ground. You can't help but remember what was up when the characters droned on about it for 25 pages. 

In other news:

I cannot even begin to tell you what a relief that large post in which I talked about everything I hadn't reviewed has been. It's been such a wonderful stress-remover, akin to Atlas replacing the planet on his shoulders with a basket of kittens. At this moment, I only have two books waiting to be reviewed -- a very tolerable number -- and I'm praying things will stay that way for the rest of the year.

The last baseball game we attended was miserable. The heat and humidity have finally arrived with a vengeance. I came home with 3 mosquito bites and yet another bobblehead (a different one from last week's; this week's version was a fellow sliding into base, very cute). The next day, it cooled off in the evening so I went out and deep-painted 6 more deck planks. I made the mistake of not wearing enough insect repellant and ended up with 15 more bites. Thank goodness I'm no longer fiercely allergic to mosquito bites. 4-5 bites used to put me to bed with a fever and flu-like symptoms.

A storm is about to arrive (I've been watching the sky darken and listening to thunder's rumbles increase in volume, as I've typed) so I'd better shush.

Happy Tuesday!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Belated 9th bloggiversary party on the deck

It was a quiet celebration. Just me, my cake, a bunch of quickly melting candles and a crowd of poison ivy leaves (mocking me because they know they're winning). I snapped the photo, ate part of the cake and scowled at the evil green vine.

Technically, my bloggiversary was Saturday (but I forgot). I've been blogging since June 6, 2006. There are nine candles crammed onto that cake. Hard to believe how fast the time has flown.

Because I spent my day chasing down candles, cake and confetti and then posing the cake, snapping and loading photos, I'm going to skip Monday Malarkey and do a Tuesday Twaddle post, instead. In the meantime, a million thanks to any and all who have visted my blog over the years. Many, many things have changed since 2006. I had one child in college and one at home when I began blogging. One of those children has since married and made me a grandmother. I've buried two cats and my mom since the beginning of the blog (and have been adopted by two new kitties), met some wonderful fellow bloggers and authors, made new friendships and traveled places I would not have otherwise thought to go. I wish I could share my cake with all of you.

Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts about books and life!!!

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Fiona Friday: trapped kitty . . . and everything I haven't reviewed this year

First things first, your weekly kitty fix:

Fiona and I spent some time hanging out together in our home library when Someone Who Shall Remain Unnamed stuck a foot through our living room ceiling, this past weekend, causing unfathomable drifts of pink insulation to pile up on the living room floor. While Husband worked to patch the ceiling and tidy, Isabel was locked into the master bedroom and Fiona and I stayed in the library. They were both annoyed but eventually I carried Fi to the master bedroom, brought in food and water, and by the time we were freed some 5-6 hours post-disaster, I had a cat sleeping across my legs and a recent college grad snoring at the end of my bed. Isabel, who had continued pacing irritably, bolted.

On to books:

I may have already mentioned some of these when I managed to do end-of-month round-ups (which I screwed up and stopped doing) and I certainly talked about plenty while I was reading them; but, I keep looking at the list of books I never got around to reviewing and, frankly, it's stressing me out. So, I'm going to do a quick run-down of everything that doesn't have a link in my unpublished 2015 Books Read file.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick - The tale of a young boy and a young girl living in two different time periods. Both are deaf and the story, told mostly through Selznick's amazing illustrations, slowly reveals an unusual link between the two. Another lovely book from Selznick. I didn't find it as magical as The Invention of Hugo Cabret but I enjoyed it.

In the Loyal Mountains by Rick Bass - A collection of short stories that are so beautifully told I often wondered if they had really happened. I had to keep reminding myself I was reading fiction. The only thing I disliked about this collection of stories was that I felt they lacked a sense of completion. I wanted the endings all tied up nicely in a bow and they're not. The writing is stellar, though, and In the Loyal Mountains is worth hanging onto for a reread.

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing - I bought and read Echo Spring for F2F discussion. Laing focuses on 6 alcoholic writers, some more familiar than others. Several destroyed their lives with alcohol, a couple were able to overcome their addictions. Woven into her search for understanding their destructive paths is the parallel tale of her own experience with an alcoholic. I found the book fascinating but was hoping for a broader perspective of the connection between addiction and the art of writing; so were most of the members of my F2F group. But, I enjoyed the reading.

The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu - A young adult book sent to me by a friend, The Third Twin is the fast-paced tale of teenage twins who take turns pretending to be someone they're not: an imaginary twin they've created, who is wilder and more daring than either of them. I can't recall but I think the name either twin uses when pretending is Alicia, so I'm going to run with that. Alicia's dates are beginning to turn up dead. Is one of the twins guilty? Have they managed to conjur someone real from their imaginations? Or, has someone found out about "Alicia" and taken over the identity? A quick read, not well-written but a page-turner. I wouldn't call it a great book because the writing was a little sloppy, but I chose to turn off my internal editor and just relish the surprising twists.

Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - An epic poem that tells the tragic love story of Evangeline and Gabriel, Acadians who are sent from their Canadian home by the British. Evangeline spends years wandering America, seeking Gabriel, only to find him dying. I read an annotated version of Evangeline (which I plucked off the shelf when I was in the mood for a classic) and I think I would have had difficulty without that extra bit of help. I loved the language and savored the beauty of the story, even though it ends tragically. It's surprisingly moving and beautiful.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns - I watched part of the PBS production to which The Roosevelts is a companion and found it fascinating so I was excited when I found a copy of this oversized book at my local library branch. It is absolutely packed with photos and tells about the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt and their families. It took me forever to read because I love old photographs and actually pulled out a magnifying glass to study the details of most of them. And, then, in the end the point of checking the book out was completely thrown out the window when I decided to buy my own copy. Oh, well. So much for trying to save money. It's worth owning, though, in my humble opinion.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - The one book that has continued to haunt me, this year. Peter, Noah and Lorelei are all outcasts who've moved to a private Catholic school hoping to improve their lives. Each has his or her own challenges at home; and, at school they must band together to deal with the bullies who are allowed to cause them grief because bullying/hazing has become a school tradition. A darkly comic tale that honestly exposes how the adults can cause just as much trouble as the students through dishonestly, violence, the choice to ignore bad behavior, and playing favorites -- and how sometimes trying too hard to become popular backfires. I'm planning to reread Brutal Youth, soon.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - Matt Haig is one of my favorite people in the Twitter world and a fairly new addition to my list of favorite authors. He's outspoken about depression and how we stigmatize people with mental illness. In Reasons to Stay Alive, he describes his own experience with despair and how he's found ways to keep himself going, even in the darkest times. While his experience is vastly different from my own, there were moments that I thought, "Yes, this!" and "Exactly!" An important book. Even if you've never been depressed, it may help you to understand and deal with the people you encounter who experience depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts.

The Great Depression and WWII: 1929-1949 by George E. Stanley - An unfortunately slim book -- really almost a booklet, it's so small -- containing brief descriptions, photos and excerpts from primary sources. I bought this to supplement my reading about the Great Depression, in particular, and was disappointed. And, yet, I did learn a few new things. I considered returning the book but decided there was enough useful material to hang onto it as a reference.

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman - An excellent children's book about the Great Depression by the author of the Newbery-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography. Packed with excellent photos and references, as well as some wonderful photographs. When I finished reading Children of the Great Depression, I realized I might as well have sent back the Stanley book because the references in Freedman's book were far better. Live and learn.

For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke - An Australian classic that tells the story of a young aristocrat named Richard Devine. When Devine's father finds out his wife was unfaithful and disowns Richard, the disgraced former heir leaves his father's house and comes across a murdered man. Accused of the man's murder, he changes his name to Rufus Dawes and is tried, convicted and transported to Australia, where he experiences a number of hardships and adventures while totally unaware that his father died before managing to change the will. By far the most exciting, gripping, captivating story I've read, this year.

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly - I was surprised how short this classic work of journalism is. Nellie Bly was a young journalist who was asked if she'd be willing to fake madness to get herself committed, specifically so she could write about the conditions at a New York asylum. She succeeded and found that women were being treated so cruelly that even those who were quite normal when committed often went crazy from mistreatment. A hard read and not quite what I expected but fascinating.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - This was my third or fourth reading of Romeo and Juliet but it's been ages since the junior high lit reading and I've never read a version that was annotated. It was eye-opening. I had no idea how dirty the story is and it clarified the relationships between characters as well as the insanity of their behavior. So much rude humor. I still love it for particular bits of dialogue but I really wanted to whack the characters on the noggin.

There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do by Michael Ondaatje - A volume of poetry with 15 years' worth of Ondaatje's work and by far the most fascinating volume I've read, this year. Sometimes his poetry is completely baffling, with phrases that crash into each other, a lack of punctuation . . . kind of a drunken feel to the writing. At other times, it's lucid and visceral enough to make you either laugh or cry or just make your skin crawl. An amazing collection.

Nine Horses by Billy Collins - There was a hangover effect from the Ondaatje that diminished the effect of Nine Horses. I usually love Billy Collins but his writing is predictable and sometimes a bit fussy. The wildness of Ondaatje made the switch to Collins feel like a strange plummet into a 10-foot pile of pillows. Having said that, once I got over the lasting shadow of Ondaatje, I enjoyed Nine Horses and was surprised to find that one of my favorite Collins poems was in this volume.

How Penguin Says "Please" and How Tiger Says "Thank You" by A. Samoun and S. Watts - Two children's board books that contain the quoted word(s) in 8 different languages. I've meant to photograph the interiors but I admit that I found the pronunciation of some of the languages so baffling to read that I had to listen to them online. That made me hesitate. I wasn't sure whether I actually liked the books because some of the languages (Russian, Egyptian, Chinese) are so difficult. But, as a child I loved knowing how to count to 10 in a half-dozen different languages and they're a nice introduction to language for small children, even if not the lmost familar to Americans.

Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey - It's only been a couple weeks since I read Ally-saurus and I still plan to review it but for the sake of catch-up I'll just tell you that it's imaginative and I loved it. More to come.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal - A Czech classic about a man who spends his day compacting paper and rescuing books from the jaws of his machine. Definitely a book for lovers of words, Too Loud a Solitude is impressively bizarre and unique. It's also pretty grim but oddly satisfying. At times, it turns the stomach (when he must compact bloody paper covered with flies from a butchery and entire families of mice go into the compactor along with the paper they've burrowed inside) but there's just something marvelously perfect about Too Loud a Solitude.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Copyright 2015 (released January 6)
Picador - Nonfiction/History/Science
336 pp., including extensive bibliography

I read Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe in 2010 and didn't realize she'd published a new book till a former blogger friend mentioned it. I ordered it that day without bothering to read about it, but with a good idea about the gist, since Field Notes from a Catastrophe was about climate change.

The beginning of The Sixth Extinction was, I thought, a bit wobbly. A book about past mass extinctions as well as the one humans are currently creating, I expected the chapters to be tied into each other a little better. Instead, each of the first few chapters felt like entirely separate entities. It turned out there's a reason for that bumpy start. Apparently, those first few chapters (I don't know how many) were originally published as individual articles.

However, eventually Kolbert hit her stride and The Sixth Extinction began to feel like it had a purpose, leading up to but not overly strident about the concept that humans have not only altered the earth by driving the climate change that is likely to lead to a mass extinction in the ocean in about 35 years but also about how we've already been causing extinctions of flora and fauna for almost our entire existence. I found it startling, although I don't suppose I should. In today's world, you blink and another animal goes extinct or is added to the endangered list.

Still, the book was surprising in many ways. I've been reading about climate change for a long time and the science is solid but I've never read anything at all about ocean warming. This, it appears, is the concept that ought to induce panic. It's not the melting icecaps, which are causing rising oceans and killing off animals that require the icy regions' strength in order to survive, nor even the warming that's causing storms to grow stronger. Instead, it's the acidification of the water that is a fearful thing. Once it reaches a certain level . . . massive die-off, gloom, doom. Really, the potential loss of all that seafood alone ought to be enough to frighten us to action.

The only downfall to this book is that it can get a little too scientific, at times, at least for some of us. I'm not well-versed in biology; I don't know a family from a genus from a hole in the head, but the author liked using the Latin names of flora and fauna and occasionally went a little deeper into the science than I'd have liked. I can read between the lines but I felt a little stupid, I suppose.

Highly recommended. Another frankly terrifying but exceptional book by Elizabeth Kolbert, excellent as a follow-up to Field Notes from a Catastrophe, although not as in-your-face blunt and a little more technical. The few lines about the likelihood of life as we know it ending in the near future were uttered by scientists, not the author herself.

Side notes: I have an unfortunate tendency to read the comments below articles about things like climate change and I must admit that I don't understand how anyone can possibly fall for the concept that climate change is a hoax, a misconception that's especially prevalent in the U.S. The science backing up the fact that climate change is human-driven (and that we are actually in a cooling period, yet still managing to warm things up in a damaging way) is extensive and has been around for a lot longer than the political division over it (before the petroleum industry began heavily lobbying and buying off U.S. Congressmen, in other words).

Kolbert even talks about how long ago the first person discovered that we were causing climate change. 100 years, people. At one point, a Russian scientist recommended burning fossil fuels to deliberately change the climate, making more of Russia livable and screwing up life for North Americans. All Russia had to do was wait, though, as the dependence upon fossil fuels grew and we made the change without malice.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Not the most bookish week

I don't have any book stack photos to share, today (although I'll do some image-snatching), so you get a glimpse of the New Jersey coast. There's not a whole lot of malarkey to report, this week, unfortunately.

Recent Arrivals:

  • Green: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoreau - Sent by friend

Yes, really, this is the only book that arrived, this week! So shocking. I even walked around the house, looking in all the usual places, to make absolutely certain I didn't overlook anything.

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished since last malarkey: 

  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Yes, again, only one. But, it's a doozy. I've read quite a number of books on climate change (The Sixth Extinction is about past mass extinctions and just discusses climate change as a factor in extinction) but this is the first one that's really talked about ocean warming with any depth and it's bracing stuff. According to the scientists Kolbert spoke to, we've got about 35 years before the warming and acidity of the ocean lead to a mass extinction of sea critters.

Currently reading:

  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson - I took a week off from Pamela. It was a busy week and I didn't find much reading time, anyway; but I needed to step away from it before digging into the second half. Pamela is so annoyingly stupid. I am enjoying the book, if only for the cultural perspective, but she sometimes gets on my nerves. 
  • Extreme Food by Bear Grylls - I also didn't touch Extreme Food, this week. I'll return to it, tonight.
  • Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal - Last night, I'd barely made it about 4 pages into Too Loud a Solitude when my eyes became heavy, so I'm going to return to the beginning the next time I pick it up (probably also tonight, depending upon how insistently Huzzybuns encourages me turn out the light).

In other news:

The heat and humidity have so fully descended that I have a feeling we won't return to deck painting till fall. And, as Huz noted, "Other problems keep interferring." One of those was a college grad sticking his foot through the living room ceiling, causing drifts of pink insulation (wow, this house is really well-insulated) to pile up on the living room floor and a red wasp to dog the poor guy trying to patch the hole. And, then someone who goes by the name "Bookfool" dropped an earring down the drain, today. Sorry, Huzzybuns.

Before it became gruesome outside, we did manage to attend a surprisingly cool and breezy baseball game on Friday night. We got free bobbleheads. Jealous? It was kind of a boring game (a pitcher's duel?) most of the night but our team managed a slender victory in the 9th inning. And, then we stayed for the fireworks show, which we've never before done. It was fabulous. Unfortunately, I don't have photos because I haven't been taking a camera with me to baseball games since I broke the good camera. My point-and-shoot can't do baseball justice.

Since several people have asked me (and I didn't bother making an announcement), just a side note to those of you who are Facebook friends: I'm taking a brief holiday from Facebook. I'll be back. I had just read an article about why it's not necessary to always announce your plans on social media, right as I came to the conclusion I needed a break, hence the disappearance without mention.

How was your week?

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.