Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Malarkey

After doing a little yardwork in the heat, this is exactly how I feel:

Only one arrival, this week:

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan was sent by HarperCollins for review. Looks nice and creepy, doesn't it? It's a combination historical and contemporary. I like that kind of book if it's done well. I'm looking forward to seeing if this one is as entertaining as it looks and sounds.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy - Loved it even more, the second time!
  • Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell - A very emotional read.

Currently reading:

  • The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - To see what all the fuss is about. So far, I'm loving it. I'm a little less than halfway through. 
  • I've set aside Mongrels, for the moment, but haven't decided whether or not I'll return to it. And, I need to choose my next non-fiction read. Since I just finished Love Wins last night, I haven't even looked, yet, but I have plenty of non-fiction from which to choose.

Last week's posts:

In Other News: 

Huh, can't think of any other news. Surely there's something going on? Nope, can't think of a thing. It's all cats and yardwork and housework and reading till I can't keep my eyes open, lately. And, cleaning the garage. Ew. That is so not fun.

©2016 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 27, 2016

Fiona Friday - Caught snuggling

©2016 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 25, 2016

Three mini reviews: In a Handful of Dust by M. McGinnis, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by M. Spark, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Y. Herrera

I bought all three of these books and don't have a lot to say about them, so I figured they're good candidates for mini reviews. [Note after writing the so-called "mini reviews": Apparently, I had more to say than I realized. Apologies for the length of this post.]

In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis continues the story of Lynn and Lucy from Not a Drop to Drink (link leads to my review). I never did find out what exactly it meant when I heard the first book was marketed as a "cross-over" novel, but In a Handful of Dust, like its predecessor, is not for the faint of heart. If you haven't read Not a Drop to Drink, this brief review may act as a spoiler, so be wary.

Ten years have passed since tragedy struck and Lynn had to make a crucial decision about whether to join up with neighbors to defend her stream or fend for herself. A community of sorts has been built up but now disease has struck the area and is rapidly killing off everyone Lynn and Lucy know and love. In an effort to save her surrogate daughter, Lynn decides that she and Lucy should walk from Ohio to California, where she's heard desalination plants allow for abundant drinking water.

Walking for that great a distance in a dystopian world obviously poses its challenges. And, some of the things they encounter are truly gruesome. But, that didn't bother me so much as two plot points. Both are spoilers but I can tell you that one of them had to do with the ending. It felt almost perfect and then I thought it was ruined by a decision by Lynn that made little to no sense. Beyond that, I can't say without ruining it but the ending disappointed me enough that I don't intend to hold on to the book for a reread. Not a Drop to Drink, on the other hand, was a 5-star read that I intend to revisit at some point. I'm glad I read In a Handful of Dust and I recommend it. I just didn't fall in love with it.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark has been sitting on my classics shelf for many years. I saw the movie starring Maggie Smith when I was quite young -- maybe 8 or 10 years old -- and it left such a strong impression that I've wanted to read it since I found out the movie was based on a novel. I'm presuming my copy of the book is one of many books that I bought from a salvage store when they got the remaining stock from a bookstore fire. That salvage stock was discounted so dramatically that it made a huge impact on the size of my home library. I've probably been hacking away at the books I purchased for at least 15 years.

At any rate, I chose The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie after ditching my first classic selection, earlier this month. Miss Brodie is an unorthodox teacher in a private girls' school. Rather than sticking to the prescribed curriculum, Miss Brodie tries to prepare her students for life by teaching a broad range of subject matter through storytelling and experience. A certain number of her students are known as the "Brodie set", the girls that she has chosen to invite to her home, to play golf with her, and to attend other weekend activities and whom she favors for reasons I never really could quite discern.

The book is told in retrospect by Sandie, one of the Brodie set who in later life became a nun. Miss Brodie's teaching method is often challenged and a number of people want to find a reason to fire her, but she's able to continue teaching for many years . . . until she's betrayed by one of her set, the girls she kept close and so completely trusted. As Sandie tells the story, the mystery of who betrayed her and why unfolds.

As young as I was when I saw the movie, I remembered the movie because of the betrayal. It so thoroughly shocked me that I've never forgotten it. The book was somewhat less shocking, maybe because of the expectation. I enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but it's definitely not my favorite by Muriel Spark. That would be A Far Cry from Kensington, a book I've read more than once. I read Spark's memoir, Curriculum Vitae, back in the 90s and from that I learned that she had a teacher who taught like Miss Brodie, so it was particularly fun revisiting her teaching method

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrara, translated by Lisa Dillman, is a book that came highly recommended by a friend who reads a very wide variety of international material (unlike me . . . I tend to stick a little too closely to the Anglo world). It had been sitting on my wish list for probably a year when I read an article that compelled me to go ahead and buy a copy.

Makina's brother crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. when he heard that there was a parcel of land that belonged to his family. He never returned. Now, Makina's mother has decided the time has come for him to return, so she sends Makina to ask favors of three dangerous men who will help Makina cross the border and find her brother.

Makina is her tiny town's telephone operator. She speaks three languages (or, perhaps, two languages and a second dialect that is almost a third language) but she's discreet and never divulges the information in the conversations she overhears. She's a strong woman and knows she's important to the town because of the trust she's earned. She plans to return to Mexico.

But, when Makina arrives in the U.S., nothing quite meets her expectations. Her brother is elusive, the land the family allegedly owned clearly does not exist, and the crossing was much more dangerous than she anticipated. When she finally locates her brother and hears his story, she makes a startling decision.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a pretty amazing book. Stylistically, it's very understated and minimalist but there's an immediacy to the writing that leaves you feeling like you were there. I gave it 4 stars because of one particular word that the translator used repeatedly, but upon reflection I think it's really a 5-star book and the translator's interference was its only problem. The word is "versed" -- a word that she used generally to replace other action words like "walked" or "exited" or other words involving movement from one place to another. I didn't like it but after realizing it was kind of a made-up word, I started playing a game, of sorts, trying to mentally pick out the best word that could have been chosen in its place.

My favorite paragraph:

Makina had no idea what so-called respectable people were referring to when they talked about Family. She'd known families that were truncated, extended, bitter, friendly, guileful, doleful, hospitable, ambitious, but never had she known a Happy Family of the sort people talked about, the sort so many swore to defend; all of them were more than just one thing, or they were all the same thing but in completely different ways: none were only fun-loving or solely stingy, and the stories that made any two laugh had nothing in common. 

~p. 79

Author Daniel Alarc√≥n  (whose book War by Candlelight I read and loved in 2005) says Signs Preceding the End of the World is a "haunting and moving allegory about violence and the culture built to support and celebrate that violence." That kind of comment makes me want to go back to school to take the literature courses I missed out on. I would never have caught that, although violence is clearly a prominent theme. I'm definitely going to want to reread this one.

©2016 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 24, 2016

Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child With No Strings Attached
By Hillary Whittington
Copyright 2015
William Morrow - Memoir
253 pp.

Raising Ryland is the story of one family's experience transitioning a very young child from female to male. I first became aware of Ryland's story when a video telling about how he transitioned went viral, a year or two ago:

Ryland's story at YouTube

It was the video of Ryland's transition along with a scathing opinion article attacking those who identify as transgender that convinced me I needed to read up on what exactly a transgender person is. I had no understanding whatsoever about what goes on in the mind of someone who is transgender but my viewpoint as a Christian has always been, "It's not my place to judge. I must love everyone equally." With that in mind, I began reading articles by and about the transgendered. When Raising Ryland came up for review, I jumped on it.

Because Ryland was so young when he declared that he was a boy, his transition is probably pretty controversial and I admit that I have mixed feelings. However, there were only two things about the Whittington's parenting that I questioned. One was the fact that they freaked out so early in Ryland's life. They grew Ryland's hair long, put her in cutesy dresses and bows, and then were embarrassed when their little girl refused to wear a bathing suit with a top, asked for clothing from the boys' department when shopping and hid in the closet, dressing in dad's clothing. I have a granddaughter whose parents tend to only put her in dresses for holidays. She wears a lot of pink but she's often dressed in jeans or leggings with a simple knit shirt. And, sometimes she doesn't want to wear a shirt at all. From my own experience, I can tell you that toddlers can be pretty stubborn about clothing and toys; that alone is not unusual. So, I thought they became concerned a little too quickly. However, they had already dealt with the fact that Ryland was born deaf, so perhaps they were more sensitive than they might have been, otherwise.

The only other concern I had is that Hillary Whittington says Ryland won't be changing his mind, although he has softened up about playing with more feminine toys, now that he's been allowed to transition. As open as they've been about allowing Ryland to transition, I would have expected them to be equally understanding if he changes his mind, some time in the future. Having said that, I suspect that if Ryland does change his mind, they'll be okay with it, even though the author is emphatic about him being transgender and that he won't change his mind. The future is yet to come.

Otherwise, nothing jumped out at me. When the author became concerned about her child's determination to be thought of as a boy, she researched transgender children and talked to experts. This was not a decision that was taken lightly and if you watch the video or read the book you'll find that Ryland's parents were motivated by the frightening statistic that 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide. More than anything, they wanted to raise children who are comfortable in their own skin and happy to be alive.

The bottom line is, we embarked on this path with Ryland specifically as a response to stories about the risks of suicide and self-harm, and because we refused to see that happen to our child.

p. 246

Recommended, particularly to those who are curious about why a child would transition to the opposite sex so young or what it means to be transgender. Memoirs can be humbly written, narcissistic, or somewhere in between. I felt like Raising Ryland leaned toward the self-congratulatory end of the spectrum but had no problem ignoring that. It's notable that the family lives in California, a state where anyone can use the bathroom of his or her choice (a California friend expressing her frustration at recent so-called "bathroom bills" told me of the lack of controversy in her state and said, "We pee happy!"). The Whittington family also has a strong support group with a particularly understanding family. I doubt transitioning a child so young would go quite as well in other states and for those who are lacking such an amazing support network. The writing itself was average, easy to read, nothing special.

What this book was missing:

A list of resources. I would have particularly liked to see a list of other books for further reading, particularly those mentioned in the book. I didn't think to flip to the end of the book to see if there was a reference section or I might have marked the few resources that were mentioned, as I'd definitely like to read more.

Just after I closed Raising Ryland, I found this wonderful article written by a Baptist preacher, which I found particularly helpful explaining the science of being transgender:

Seven Things I'm Learning About Transgender Persons

I also read the opposite viewpoint, an article written by a woman who was a tomboy as a child but eventually grew out of it:

I am Ryland -- The Story of a Male-Identifying Little Girl Who Didn't Transition

There are some distinct differences between the experiences of the former-tomboy who wrote the latter article and that of Ryland. Had I not read the book, I might have been swayed by that particular woman's opinion. Instead, I felt like some of what she said at the end of the article went further to prove that Ryland probably is genuinely transgender, rather than just a tomboy, as she implies. But, you really do need to read about what it means to be transgender to be aware of the differences, which are subtle but significant.

At any rate, I felt like I learned a bit from Raising Ryland but I need to read more to fully understand what it means to be transgender. Raising Ryland was definitely a good start on the road to understanding.

©2016 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 23, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, 
  • I Can't Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan, and 
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor - all purchased
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman - from HarperCollins for review
The covers of three of them are so pretty, it just occurred to me that I probably should have snapped a photo showing the covers, so here's a crappy phone photo I just took. While it's better than nothing, the cover of Signs Preceding the End of the World is black, not a grainy grey, and quite striking.

Books finished since last Tuesday's twaddle:

  • Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington - working on the review and finding it a bit difficult to express how I feel about this book. 
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark - The classic I settled on after deciding to ditch my first selection because it turned out to be a series of short stories.
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera - A one-sitting read, translated from Spanish.

Currently reading:

I plan to focus on Simon Van Booy's short stories in Tales of Accidental Genius, for the next few days. I've also started to read Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones and I like the writing but I'm not sure it's going to stick. I don't feel eager to pick it up at night, so it might not be the right time. If so, I'll switch to another novel, soon. I also need to start a new nonfiction because I like to balance one nonfic with a couple fiction reads but I haven't settled on one, yet. So, kind of a wishy-washy start to the reading week.

Last week's posts (only one after Tuesday Twaddle):

In other news:

Just two days after I posted a photo of our tomatoes, squirrels stripped the tomato plants of fruit, so Huzzybuns is pondering the possibility of building a small greenhouse. Bummer. We had a lot of tomatoes growing and they took every single one, even the tiny ones.

There's not much other news. We had a quiet weekend and the only real excitement was going shopping with a friend for canvases while they were on sale 67% off. They didn't have a couple of the sizes I was looking for, unfortunately, so I may have to go back to see if they've restocked, later in the week, but in the meantime I've got plenty of variety to work from. I've been painting mostly on small canvases because I only have a tabletop easel, so finding an easel that will hold larger canvases is next on the agenda. If you paint and can recommend a particular brand or type of easel, I'm open to advice. I want something sturdy that will adjust to hold either a large or small canvas.

What's up in your world?

©2016 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 20, 2016

Random chatter and Fiona Friday

Just out of curiosity, is there anyone out there who remembers when I used to regularly post bird and flower photos? I haven't done that in a while. I was inspired to grab my camera by the red-headed woodpecker who has begun to regularly perch on our lamppost. I've only been able to snap him from the front door, so far, but isn't he pretty?

So . . . explanation about this post . . . I'm having the kind of week when you open the blog, load a book image, and then just sit staring at the monitor thinking, "Uhhh," and nothing comes. I could have taken off and just pre-posted my Fiona Friday cat pic but I really never write about my everyday life, anymore, so I thought I'd write a little about that and just tuck in a few pictures. Maybe writing about nothing much will loosen me up a bit and help break the problem I'm having with writing reviews.

We have mums growing. I'm loving the fiery burst of color:

We also have tomatoes, thanks to the spouse's optimism. After the first couple of years of planting things in pots on our deck and watching the squirrels strip even the flowers to the stems, I confess I gave up trying to grow anything at all in the backyard. We'll see if the squirrels run off with our tomatoes the moment they ripen.

Yesterday, my best buddy and I went to a monthly event sponsored by our town. We ate lunch in front of a local artist's studio while he painted and talked about . . . well, everything. He basically told us his life story with focus on how he became a successful artist, why he's a plein air painter and only paints from life (never photographs). His name is Wyatt Waters. Here he is, sketching:

Below, he stopped to talk a bit, possibly tired of sitting and talking. My friend and I had to cut out early and he's a meticulous craftsman, so what you see on the paper is the last we saw of the painting he was working on, before we left:

He painted the street in front of him -- a building and cars. I would have happily watched him all day (but only if there was some shade available; the sun was brutal) if I could have. I was fascinated by his careful attention to detail. I have a tendency to get so excited when I paint that globs go flying.

Speaking of painting, I don't remember whether or not I mentioned that I've just recently started painting. I painted in oils before my second pregnancy but quit when I found out I was expecting because I didn't want to expose the Kiddo to nasty chemicals. This time, I'm painting with acrylics because there's less fuss. I have no training, apart from a handful of workshops taken back in my oil painting days, but I'm having an awful lot of fun. Unlike Wyatt, I'm most comfortable painting from a photograph. I'm mostly dipping into my own files and I guess this guy (from a picture taken on my deck) is one of my favorites, so far, although an abstract that Kiddo named and has asked to have for his apartment wall (!!!!) is my runner-up:

Anyway, hopefully, this post will have purged my mind a little and I'll get back to writing reviews, next week. One of my favorite cat photos of the week gets to be today's Fiona Friday. This is a phone shot of Fiona. She was thinking about jumping up onto the couch but right after I snapped this, she got distracted, batted at something (neither of us know what) and accidentally knocked over an empty soda can, which hit the floor with such a resounding clatter that it scared her right out of the room. Crazy cat.

Happy Weekend to All!

©2016 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 17, 2016

Tuesday Twaddle - A Visual Guide

Today's Twaddle (in lieu of malarkey, which was not possible yesterday, due to a Blogger snafu) will be mostly visual because there's so little to talk about. Actually, there's not all that much to photograph, either, but we won't go there.

Above is the photo I repeatedly attempted to load, yesterday, while I was reading it: Feather Brained by Bob Tarte. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've already seen it. I suppose that means I should take a different photo for the review, right? We'll see if I can be bothered. I did finish the book, last night, and I loved the ending.

I only got one book in the mail, last week, and it's one I purchased on a whim. I need to work on that whim business. I keep having attacks of whimsical purchasing.

In this case, The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek popped up when I was looking for something entirely unrelated, book-wise, at Amazon. It absolutely does not look like a book that would appeal to me, a WWI satire over 700 pages long, but for some reason I clicked on the image and read about it. And, within 2 days it was on my doorstep. I've flipped through it and I do like the light-hearted writing style. The real question is, "Will Bookfool be able to stick out a 700+ page book?" The usual answer is "no" but there have been exceptions.

I only finished one other book (besides Feather Brained), last week:

I loved A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki in an, "I want to hug this book" way. The picture makes me snicker. I don't know what possessed me to pose it with Japanese items but after I did, I thought, "That looks stupid; I should make an origami crane or something" (which is probably equally ridiculous), looked up paper cranes in two old origami books I own, failed to find any instructions, and gave up. So, that's the photo I'm currently stuck with. At any rate, the book is terrific and I particularly loved it for the reminder of our visit to Japan in 2011. But, I also adored Ruth Ozeki's writing and will be seeking out her first book.

I stopped everything to focus on A Tale for the Time Being (although that's a little misleading -- you'll see when I tell you why I read so little) read one story from Simon Van Booy's Tales of Accidental Genius, and then dived into Feather Brained, this week. I also settled on my classic of the month, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize Winesburg, Ohio is a set of interconnected short stories until I got to the second story, so I've temporarily set that aside and I'm considering either shifting to another book or just waiting to read it till after I finish Accidental Genius because I don't really want to read two books of short stories at the same time. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I picked up an entirely different book, this morning, for the change of pace:

Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington is nonfiction, the story of a very young girl who declared that she was a boy and has transitioned to boy (without, as far as I know, surgical intervention -- I'm not far enough to know that, yet). I know next to nothing about transgender people -- the psychology, the science, the way trans people feel. What little I've read has been frankly confusing. So, I figure one way to understand where the trans community is coming from is to read their stories. Call them sinners or mental cases or chemically whacked, if that's how you feel, but that's not my bag. What matters to me is understanding and respecting my fellow humans. Raising Ryland just happened to be offered to me by HarperCollins (before the so-called "bathroom bill" in North Carolina), so it's a start.

A brief diversion for links to last week's posts:

Just two posts, thanks to a raging migraine that lasted most of the week.

I also checked out a book from the library. There were two very cool things about that experience. One, there were many, many gorgeous black-eyed susans in bloom in the library gardens:

And, the librarian's fingernail polish accurately matched the book cover of my hold, The Nest:

I wish it had occurred to me to snap a picture of her hand on the book. It was cool, though, trust me. We both got a good laugh.

©2016 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 16, 2016

Just reading, today

And, for some reason, I'm unable to upload an image. So, you get a couple of sentences in lieu of any kind of meaningful post. I'm almost finished with Feather Brained by Bob Tarte and enjoying it (although I confess I've been reading slowly because I feel obligated to look up many of the birds he mentions when he talks about birding excursions). More on that when Blogger problems have resolved.

©2016 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 13, 2016

Fiona Friday - Pretty in Red

I lucked out and got a decent photo of Fiona, last week. Love the look of her dark fur against the red. I'll have to remember how good she looks against red if I ever get her a collar. The kitties don't wear collars because they're indoors-only but I've been thinking I might need to get them collars just in case they ever accidentally end up outdoors.

©2016 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 10, 2016

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis
Copyright 2015
William Morrow - Thriller 
285 pp.

Emily has run away from her family but Ben and Charlie can make it on their own. On impulse, she takes the train from Manchester to London, finds a room in a shared house, makes a friend, locates a job, and begins an entirely new life as Cat Brown. It's a long way down from lawyer to receptionist but she can't go back. Sometimes Cat seems to be blaming herself, sometimes her twin sister, Caroline. But, whatever happened, she can't think about it . . . at least until the one-year anniversary, when the thought makes her so ill that things go terribly wrong, just because she's trying to forget. What happened to make Emily run away from home? Has she gone far enough? Or has she gone too far?

OK, hmm, mixed feelings about this one. I could put up a spoiler warning but I don't really want to mess it up for anyone, so I think instead I'll just try to keep it vague and talk about what I liked and disliked about One Step Too Far, beginning with the problems I had with the story.

Things I didn't love about One Step Too Far:

  • I had a terrible time getting into the book. In fact, normally I would have set it aside because it wasn't till I was fully a third into the book (about 120 pages) that I began to care about Emily/Cat enough to wonder what on earth happened. 
  • I found Cat's quick rise from receptionist to account manager in an advertising firm beyond implausible. I've been a receptionist. I've never felt so invisible in my life. I was basically a tool; all anyone cared about was getting their messages and they noticed me only if I made an error. I'm sure it's possible to move up from a receptionist job but from answering the phone to being a creative, making presentations, traveling, and attending cocktail parties in 9 months? No. Just no.
  • It was also difficult understanding why Cat went from being clean-living Emily to a cocaine user, although the big reveal does help explain that.
  • The plot twist or big reveal was a cheap trick. I wanted to punch something. I used a similar device in a short story, decades ago. Everyone hated it. So, I'm surprised it was such a hit in the UK (One Step Too Far was previously released by Penguin Random House in Great Britain). Having said that, there were hints dropped. Sometimes Emily blamed herself for the nebulous bad thing, sometimes her twin. So, when that twist happens and the horrible thing is revealed, you feel misled and gutted but nod with understanding, at the same time.
  • There was a second deliberately misleading bit in the final chapter. I don't understand the point of misleading readers, again, at that point. Did she get her happily ever after or did everything go to hell? Just tell me, Author. There's no need to tease.

Things I liked about One Step Too Far:

  • The writing is competent. I thought the story flowed. Even though I had difficulty finding a reason to stick it out (the reason I did: two of my trusted reader friends gave One Step Too Far 4 stars at Goodreads and I decided to keep reading to understand what it was they appreciated about the book), once I became invested in the story, I made the conscious decision to ignore my inner editor and just enjoy it. At that point, the pages began to fly.
  • The setting. London is my favorite city and I know it about as well as anyone who has visited half a dozen times, so there were lots of familiar names and places. There was one flawed bit that I only recognized because I've stayed exactly in the location described and it wasn't a major error (in fact, I think it might have been erroneous because someone chose to Americanize the wording, which made it inaccurate in a way that leaving it alone would not have), so other than that one moment -- which jarred me a bit -- I really enjoyed the familiarity of the setting.
  • After the initial third of the book, which was not particularly fast-paced, and not initially caring where the book was headed, I finished the book in a single evening. Yes, it took a long time to get into; but, once it gripped me it didn't let go.
  • Apart from the deliberate deception, I really did like the ending of the book. 
  • Once you know what's happened, it will gut you. The story is both heartbreaking and beautiful. 

Recommended but not a favorite - I didn't care for the way the author twisted that little something to make the reader believe one thing when the truth was a shade different. I felt used. But, I liked the setting, eventually found the book compelling, and also thought the truth of the ending was believable. So, overall, I liked the book but there were a few too many implausibles for it to become a favorite. Having said that, I would definitely read this author, again. One Step Too Far is apparently the author's first book. If so, I'm impressed. It's definitely well-written and with a little less trickery I think she could very well write a 5-star thriller. I don't know that I feel like One Step Too Far should be categorized as a thriller because it never appeared that Emily/Cat was hiding from anyone but herself; it didn't appear likely that anyone would pursue her. But, that's just semantics. The story worked in many ways and I'm glad I finished it.

©2016 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 09, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Nothing, nada, zero, zippo, zilch. Seriously, not a single book arrived. So you get Mother's Day tulips for a photo image, instead of books. Thanks to Kiddo for saving the day by bringing me something lovely to photograph!

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit - Loved it so much, I reviewed it within minutes of closing the book.
  • One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis - Still forming thoughts about this one.

Currently reading:

  • Feather Brained by Bob Tarte - A book about author Bob Tarte's determination to become a birder and find a rare bird. So far, I'm finding myself a little stunned at how thoroughly I can relate to Bob, not in his desire to be a birder but in the places he's been and the discoveries he's made about the intelligence of animals. 
  • Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy - Reread; reading it very slowly, this time, and enjoying it even more.
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Just started, this weekend, after finishing One Step Too Far and I'm totally hooked. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

We're still having continuing internet issues. Fortunately, we our new fiber network should be installed by June, at the latest. Unfortunately, we're just stuck with terrible internet, till then. Neither one of us wants to call the current provider because we're already signed up with a new network. So, I occasionally check to see if our signal is on and, when it is, I scramble to get whatever I need to accomplish done. It can be on for as little as 5 or 10 minutes and then go down for hours. It's crazy. I usually don't pre-post much of anything but I've done a bit of that to prevent missing scheduled posting days (Fiona Friday for this week is already scheduled, for example) but I think the net result is going to be shorter posts, which is something I always feel like I need to work on, anyway. I do tend to drone on.

©2016 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 06, 2016

Fiona Friday

I'll bet you're curious what Isabel was so interested in, right? Go ahead and guess. Okay, wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

She was looking at a rainbow-striped eye mask. Seriously. She stalked it and then sniffed at it and did what I would call a "kitty shrug". Not interesting. It didn't even merit a paw whack.

©2016 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 05, 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Copyright 2016
Alfred A. Knopf - YA/Holocaust/WWII
232 pp.

Anna still was not certain what precisely was meant by this word "war," but it seemed, at least in part, to be an assault on her cookie supply, and of this she simply could not approve.

~from p. 9 from Advance Reader Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

In the November cold, resting out of doors for the very first time, and beset on all sides with what seemed like the world congress of inconvenient tree roots, she hardly slept at all.

~from p. 39 of ARC

I don't feel like I can possibly do Anna and the Swallow Man justice, so I'm going to link to my friend Jill's Goodread's review. I don't think it's got any spoilers, although it will make a lot more sense after you've read the book. And, you definitely should, particularly if you are interested in a completely unique view of the Holocaust. It is achingly beautiful, brilliantly written, heartbreaking storytelling.

In brief: 

Anna's father is a professor of linguistics in Krakow, Poland. In 1939, he is arrested while Anna is being watched by a friend. Locked out of their home and unsure where to go, she meets the Swallow Man, a lanky stranger who is as fluent in many languages and dialects as her father and Anna, herself. He refuses to share his name and insists that Anna not use her name in public, as well. Anna follows him as he walks around Poland and across borders, teaching her how to live off the land and how to behave when they are around people, particularly the Wolves and Bears (Germans and Soviets).

Years pass, Anna grows, a third straggler joins them for a time. Will they survive till the end of the war?

Highly recommended - I'm surprised this book has been marketed as YA because it's definitely a dark read, but the author has said perhaps the marketing not a bad thing, maybe that choice has opened up the readership. And, when I think back, I realize that I read books about the Holocaust when I was pretty young. My first real peek into WWII was a "Drama in Real Life" in Reader's Digest that I read when I was 10 years old. The Holocaust a crucial part of our history and one that should never be forgotten. Anna and the Swallow Man is the kind of book that really brings home the horror, deprivation, and evil of the Holocaust, and yet at the same time it portrays the compassion and hope that kept a portion of the Jewish population alive when so many were trying to exterminate them.

Anna and the Swallow Man will stay with me for a long, long time, I'm sure. It's the kind of book that should be read repeatedly, studied, and discussed. Heartfelt thanks to my friend Paula for sending it to me.

©2016 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 04, 2016

The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron

The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron
Copyright 2016
NAL Accent - Contemporary Fiction
416 pp.

When Abby is suddenly widowed, she makes a shocking discovery: she was not her husband Scott's first wife. Curious, Abby seeks out first wife Fern and discovers that Scott had a son, Matty. Fern is a bus driver who struggles to get by, living in a small house with Matty, Scott's father and his father's girlfriend. Although Scott never had anything to do with Fern or his son, he did at least send regular support checks. Now, Fern will have to find extra work to get by.

Abby's parents both died long ago and although they left her well off, there is really nothing she desires more in life than a family. But, she has been unable to carry a child and now she no longer has a man in her life. Seeing young Matty makes her long to get to know him and his family. But, Fern is not interested in Abby's yearning for friendship or her offers to help out. With Fern's financial situation increasingly falling apart and Abby charming young Matty, will Fern give in and let Abby become a part of their world?

Here's the interesting thing about The Ones Who Matter Most, at least to me. I thought it was going to be terrible for at least the first 30 pages. Abby has a crunchy hippie friend who sets her to work getting rid of unwanted possessions a mere two days after Scott has died. I just couldn't fathom that. The first couple of weeks are so overwhelming, with people visiting and bringing casseroles, offering their sympathy, and all the decisions about burial and funeral service that it was hard to believe Abby would even have a moment alone with only one friend. That was my personal experience getting in the way of the storyline, of course. I also wasn't sure I was going to like Abby because I didn't know her motivation for what happens in the opening pages.

Fortunately, that hesitation didn't last long. Yes, the opening is flawed. But, Abby quickly becomes endearing. She's got boatloads of money but she has not had an easy life. She lost both parents early on, has been unable to carry a pregnancy, and now she's a young widow. When she offers to help Fern financially and starts spending time with Matty, she means well. She's really quite sweet.

Fern, on the other hand, is tough. She's got a huge heart but she's had to work hard to keep her odd little jumble of a family fed and she's constantly facing new challenges like broken appliances. It's only natural for her to put up a defensive wall; more than anything, she wants to protect her family.

Highly recommended - I absolutely adored the characterization, the challenges to the characters, and the way Abby slowly hacked down Fern's defenses. While the beginning of The Ones Who Matter Most was a bit rocky because it didn't feel like it had the ring of truth when it came to the aftermath of a sudden death, that rapidly changed and I felt the long, drawn-out process of softening Fern was believable. There was only one plot point I didn't adore (a suggestion by her hippie friend) beyond the beginning but it had a purpose and, in the end, I had to acknowledge it helped lead to the absolutely perfect, happy-tears ending. I just want to clutch this book to my chest, I love it so much.

©2016 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 03, 2016

April Reads in Review, 2016

April Reads (links to full reviews, if applicable):

28. Father's Day by Simon Van Booy - Harvey has gathered together a number of gifts to celebrate Father's Day during her father's visit to her home in Paris. Leaping back and forth in time from when Jason was asked to take in little Harvey after the death of her parents and the present day in Paris, Father's Day reveals the story of their life together, Jason's violent past, and how love healed them both. Loved the slow growth of their relationship but Jason was an uncomfortable character with his violent tendencies.

29. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - A fictionalized account of Sylvia Plath's month in New York City, working for a magazine, partying, and becoming dangerously depressed, followed by the description of complete breakdown, suicide attempt, and hospitalization. I'm glad I read this classic but it is definitely a serious bummer.

30. The Summer of Me by Angela Benson - When her twin children go to California to spend the summer with their father and he unexpectedly cuts her child support in half, single mom Destiny has to figure out how to save enough money to not only pay the bills but buy a house so he won't fight for custody. Meanwhile, the local associate pastor, a widower, has caught her eye. Too many threads made the story a bit implausible and overwhelming but I appreciated The Summer of Me for helping me recover from The Bell Jar.

31. Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear - In the 12th installment of the Maisie Dobbs series, Maisie is recruited to fetch an important man who has been held in Dachau prison camp from Germany while posing as his daughter. But, she takes on a second task that is even more dangerous. I haven't read the rest of the series but found this book readable, if not a perfect standalone.

32. Euphoria by Lily King - Three anthropologists, one single and desperately lonely, two married to each other, cross paths when the married couple are forced to abandon the tribe they've been studying. When the lonely single falls for the married woman, what will happen? One of my favorites of the month, but the official synopsis I read is a bit misleading. It's the married man, Fen, who puts them in danger rather than the liaison of Bankson and Nell.

33. The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron - After childless Abby is suddenly widowed, she discovers her husband was married before . . . and had a son. When she finds them, Abby is shocked to discover that Fern is a bus driver who can barely afford to keep food on the table for herself, her ex's father and girlfriend, and young Matty. Abby's interest in the family is not welcome, but all she ever wanted was a family of her own. Can Abby convince Fern to be her friend? Another favorite. I could hardly bear to put this book down.

34. Aim True by Kathryn Budig - Kathryn Budig shares a little about herself, some yoga routines, recipes, and meditations in this book subtitled: "Love your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance!" Yet another favorite, I'm holding out on writing the review till I've tried a few of the recipes.

35. 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke (e-book) - I've read a few poems by Rupert Brooke in volumes of war poetry and already had this volume of his poetry (I think it's available for free Kindle download). There were a few poems I enjoyed, but he tended to confuse me so I would not count Brooke a favorite.

Another 8-book month. I'm learning to live with them, although I confess it's still strange that some nights I don't actually feel like reading at all. I know others who have gone through a lengthy reading slump like this (worse, even) but it still throws me for a loop. I'm pretty happy with my month, though. I loved my F2F discussion book, Euphoria, and The Ones Who Matter Most is the kind of "creation of hodge-podge family" book that I adore. Aim True was a very pleasant surprise - exactly what I'd hoped it would be. Although some of the ingredients are uncommon, at least in our area, I'm hoping we'll be able to find them, now that we have a Whole Foods within an hour of our house.

1914 and Other Poems was so-so but I'm glad I read it and happy that I did manage to squeeze in one volume of poetry before the end of National Poetry Month. I'm also happy to have finally read The Bell Jar, even though I found it a total downer. I can see, now, why everyone said Sylvia Plath was such a talented writer. And, it's always a good month when there's a new Simon Van Booy book on the shelves! No, Father's Day wasn't my favorite of his books, but I always enjoy the familiar rhythm and depth of heart in his writing.

Journey to Munich was just okay, a book that didn't stand alone all that well. I've been told by a number of people that I should go back to the beginning of the Maisie Dobbs series and I will check to see if my library carries the books, soon. It definitely would have helped if I'd known all the people and places from previous books, as Maisie spent a lot of time refelecting on her past. And, The Summer of Me was another book that was just so-so.

How was your reading month?

©2016 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 02, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I had a good day. Hope your week started out well, too.

Recent Arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna - from HarperCollins for review
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - purchased for F2F discussion
  • The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen,
  • The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam,
  • The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, and
  • Love Wins by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell are all from HarperCollins (Harper and William Morrow imprints) for review

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig - Finished the reading, loved it, and hope to whip up a few recipes before reviewing. 
  • 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke - Can't say I'm a fan of Rupert, but I am happy that I managed to squeeze in at least one volume of poetry before National Poetry Month ended!
  • In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis - The YA follow-up to McGinnis's 2013 dystopian Not a Drop to Drink

Currently reading:

  • Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy (reread) - Slowly, this time. 
  • Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit - a WWII book that takes place in Poland. So far, I'm completely besotted with the writing. At times, it reminds me of Simon Van Booy's writing - such lovely, rhythmic prose, with occasional humor in the midst of the darkness.
  • One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis - This one didn't grab me, at first, but I'm starting to enjoy it, now.

Recent Posts:

In Other News: 

I just realized I hadn't finished this post. Kind of spaced out, for an hour or so. Ever have one of those nights that you're just so wide awake that you might as well get up and do something till you get sleepy? Last night was like that. I was so bizarrely energized that I started 3 or 4 different posts (loading images, putting book titles in the subject line, etc., without getting to the review portion) and it wasn't till 4am that I finally felt sleepy. I think I need a very long nap or an early bedtime, tonight.

I'll probably write up my end-of-the-month post for April, tomorrow (weather- and Internet-dependent; we're still occasionally losing service for 2-4 hours at a stretch) but I can tell you that I'm pretty happy with April. The quantity is still below average but I managed to finish my F2F discussion book and read a decent number of ARCs.

I've decided to declare May "Anything Goes Month", meaning I will read whatever calls to me. Having said that, I do have A Tale for the Time Being to read for discussion and I'd like to read at least one book from my Weird Books stack. I haven't yet settled on a classic for May but I'll be thinking about that, tonight. I'm strongly considering a reread of The Count of Monte Cristo.

©2016 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.