Wednesday, August 31, 2016

14 Seconds to Hell by Nick Carter

Nick Carter is the "Kill Master" mentioned in that arch above what appears to be the author's name, the heroic and sex-crazed American Agent to whom credit is given as author, even though he's fictional and the copyright is held by the publisher. In 14 Seconds to Hell, Nick is given the instructions and equipment he will use to destroy an evil Chinese scientist's nuclear weapons. Seven warheads are trained on the Western world and Peking's leaders are looking forward to world domination after blowing everyone else to Kingdom Come. It's a race against time and the Soviets are willing to cooperate with the U.S. to help.

At first, Nick and Russian agent Alexi can't keep their hands off each other. Nick is, it seems, irresistible (or, perhaps she's a "nympho"; Nick can't help but wonder, because clearly a woman who likes sex is not normal, unlike a guy . . . ) and the first three chapters are dedicated to a little sex, a little planning, more sex, more preparation. And, then Nick discovers he's been bedding both Alexi and her twin, Anya, at which point you will either throw this hilarious 1968 pulp novel at the wall or laugh and hope the action will begin in earnest, soon.

Fortunately, after the first three chapters, the real spy business begins. Nick, Alexi, and Anya face numerous challenges as they travel to Dr. Hu Tsan's compound. On the way, one of the girls sleepily asks about America: "Are there many go-go girls? Is there much dancing?" Whew, the things a female spy worries about.

At the complex, they face poisonous gas and extreme misogyny. The evil scientist has had a really, really bad experience, it seems, with a Western woman, and he's determined to punish them all. To that end, he has created a torture machine that gives women orgasms repeatedly and frequently till they break and become zombie-like shadows of their former selves, barely able to function. The trio of spies are captured and Nick must use his wits and strength to save both the world and the two women.

Hilariously bad but fun - 14 Seconds to Hell is the first of the Nick Carter series that I've read. It was nutty fun. I particularly loved the action, of course - I always love a fast-paced plot. But, it's both horrifying and laughable in its extremes. The sexism! The fact that nobody knows if they blow up half the world they'll all die of radiation poisoning, too! The amazing lack of professionalism of both male and female when working with the opposite sex! You'll either love it or hate it. I thought it was a fun ride and I'm looking forward to eventually reading the other two books my friend sent. 14 Seconds to Hell is definitely "of the time". It's certainly a lesson in how far we've come.

It's also a bit of a lesson in what we've lost, as the evil doctor talks about the "empty concepts" of truth, justice, mercy, honor, compassion, right, and wrong that are favored by Westerners. "Honor" struck me, and often does when I read older titles. It's something that isn't talked about much, anymore. Also, helicopters are occasionally referred to as "whirlybirds". Haha. I only know the copyright date because I can read Roman Numerals. Do they still teach how to read Roman Numerals in school? Just curious.

©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, August 30, 2016

If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum, illus. by Dasha Tolstikova

There are a few things you should be warned about if you're thinking it would be fun to have a T. Rex crash your birthday party, says the narrator of If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party:

First of all, a T. Rex is as big as a school bus. 

A klutzy, CRASHY school bus. 

Second of all, 
he'll have this weird way
of looking at you.

Like he's wondering how you'd taste with a little mustard.

Thus begins If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party. The story continues in the same vein, imagining all the crazy things that might happen if a T. Rex showed up at a birthday party. How he'd accidentally pop the bouncy castle with his 10-inch nails. How easily his temper would flare. How terrible he'd be at hide and seek because of his size. All the trouble his little arms would cause.

But, in the end, you'd be perfectly happy if the T. Rex wanted to return, next year.

Highly recommended - I love everything about If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party: the humor ("T. Rex + toys = disaster"), the colorful illustrations on a clean, white background -- fresh, fun, and easy on the eyes -- the delightful storyline. Given the number of dinosaur books that are available, I'm astounded by how inventive the stories can be. If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party is 40 pages of bright, imaginative fun and a new favorite that I'm eagerly looking forward to reading to my granddaughter when I see her.

©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, August 29, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Almost September! Who is feeling just a little bit woozy from the quick passage of time? Here's hoping that the rest of 2016 is a little calmer than what we've experienced, so far.

New arrivals:

  • Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth - from HarperCollins for review

Yes, just one book arrived, this week! Good. Needed to even out the influx after last week's arrivals. OK, having just finished that sentence, two more books arrived - both books that I ordered:

  • Easy Street by Ron Perlman - Who, surprisingly, follows me on Twitter. I suspect he followed me because I'm a book blogger, although his book was not yet at press when he did so and nobody offered his book to me (unless I missed an offer, somewhere - sometimes they do disappear into the spam file and I never see them; I don't check the spam file often enough). At any rate, the book sounded interesting from the beginning and has gotten very positive reviews so curiosity won out. 
  • A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines - My F2F group's November selection.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • 14 Seconds to Hell by Nick Carter - Nick Carter is the spy in 14 Seconds to Hell but if you try to look up the book, he's billed as the author. The copyright is held by the publisher so there's no telling who wrote the book. At any rate, it's a crazy 60s-era pulp fiction spy thriller. 
  • Kid Artists by Stabler and Horner - Mini bios about artists when they were young, already reviewed. 

Currently reading:

  • A Square Meal by Coe and Ziegelman - I made some significant progress on A Square Meal, last night, and have decided I need to get going on finishing this book so I can move on to a couple other non-fiction titles that have been waiting a bit too long. Still enjoying it. Learning to loathe President Hoover for refusing to distribute food to citizens who were literally starving to death. His talking points remind me a bit of Paul Ryan's. 
  • Wonder Women by Sam Maggs - A book about women who have made major contributions, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields but with a few others thrown in. Very modern and accessible, stylistically. I'm enjoying this book. I asked my husband if he knew the first computer program was written by a woman and he said, "Was her name Ada something?" "Yes," I replied. He told me there's a computer language named after her, "It's not a very good language, though." Many of the women in this book worked unpaid or were not credited for their discoveries. They were also treated rather badly, although if one was fortunate enough to have a male championing her skills, the situation typically improved.
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett - Patchett's new to me and I'm impressed. Commonwealth is the story of several generations of a combined family and how the divorce and remarriage that blended their families reverberated through the generations. I can't even figure out why it's so compelling; it just is. I think maybe it's because the storytelling is so honest, the characters true to life in a way that makes you visualize them as real people, not just characters. I'm a little under halfway through Commonwealth.
  • Intimations: Stories by Alexandra Kleeman - A book of quirky short stories. I read the first one and found it so baffling that I looked up an interview with the author about the story, "Fairy Tale", which was originally published in The Paris Review. I still don't get it. It was more eerily reminiscent of a nightmare than a fairy tale, to me (at least, it reminded me of some of my own nightmares). Elsewhere, someone described her stories as allegories. Truly, I may just be too dim to understand what she's trying to say. I'll keep going, though. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

I'm not entirely prepared to declare my reading slump over for good but it sure appears to be done. I typically balance 3-5 books when I'm reading at my normal rate and right now 4 books have bookmarks in them. That's just about right. I'm feeling very upbeat about my reading, at the moment. How is your reading going? Read anything fabulous, lately?

©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.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kid Artists by David Stabler, illus. by Doogie Horner

Kid Artists by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner [Quirk Books; recommended for ages 9-12] is subtitled "True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends". There are three sections:

  • Call of the Wild - describes artists who were inspired by nature,
  • It's a Hard-Knock Life - Tells about artists who overcame obstacles like poverty, discrimination, bullying, and frequent moves, and
  • Practice Makes Perfect - describes artists who had the great fortune of a mentor or family member who encouraged them.

There's some cross-over between the sections. For example, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol both received constant encouragement (so they're in the "Practice Makes Perfect" section) but also experienced the hardships of illness and bullying.

Each chapter provides a mini-bio of an artist that pays particular focus on the challenges and advantages the artists experienced as children. They're very basic bios and some of the artists were unknown to me. In those cases, I ended up going online to read more and view images of their works, which I love. I adore a book that stimulates enough interest to convince you that you must learn more and I can easily visualize how Kid Artists could be used in a classroom for just that purpose.

The stated age range for the book is 9-12 years old. I'd go beyond that in either direction. You could read a chapter per day to a younger crowd and coordinate with an art teacher or individually come up with inexpensive ways to mimic an artist's style. Or, for older students, the ideas could range from doing reports to more serious art projects. Homeschoolers and those who are looking for do-at-home projects could easily create an entire art unit around the book.

Recommended - Don't expect in-depth descriptions; the chapters are reasonably brief and leave out plenty of details of each author's life. It's purpose is to show that those whom we know to have succeeded in art had challenges to deal with just like the rest of us. I think it serves the purpose well and is a great resource. I love the idea that Kid Artists can be used as a jumping-off point for projects. I'm well past the intended age range because I'm a boring old grown-up, but love the idea of trying to imitate some of the artists' styles, just for fun. You're never too old to play.

©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, August 26, 2016

Fiona Friday - Concerned face

This looks like the potential beginning to a fight, given Fiona's back-turned ears, but it was not. The photo right before I took this one was a pic of Fi grooming the top of Isabel's head. Izzy stretched briefly, sticking her paws into her sister's fur, and then curled right back up. And, Fiona went back to grooming her. It could have gone either way, but I guess Fi was in the mood to do a grooming and that was that. It was a pretty cute interaction.

©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, August 25, 2016

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan is a contemporary/historical novel in which a modern-day adoptee in a closed adoption, Lee Parker, searches for clues to her ancestry while in 1889, Elizabeth Halberlin vacations with her wealthy family at a lake above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Their two stories are mostly told via alternating chapters, although that pattern is broken a bit toward the end.

I was quickly swept into The Woman in the Photo. The parallel storytelling concept is one that I think has been overdone in recent years and I will sometimes take a break from that particular type of book, but I always return. I don't mind the shifts back and forth; I just find that I tend to prefer one storyline over the other and end up wishing the author had focused on my favorite. I did enjoy the historical storyline more than the present-day storyline, but I also thought the intertwining stories were both well told and wrapped up nicely, if predictably. The Woman in the Photo sucked me in so thoroughly that I didn't give much thought to its minor flaws while I was reading, so I'm just being picky upon reflection.

The historical time and place will ring a bell for those who familiar with the Johnstown Flood -- a devastating flood caused by the collapse of a dam. I read about the Johnstown Flood in Reader's Digest when I was young. Like the story of WWII that first captured my interest, I'm pretty sure it was a "Drama in Real Life", one of Reader's Digest's regular features. I've read a little bit more about the flood, since then, but not a lot. So, much of what I learned about the flood was new to me and I was completely unaware of its cause, the wealthy people who lived on the lake having dammed its spillway to prevent the fish they stocked from going downstream (not a spoiler, since Elizabeth mentions it at the beginning of the book). That and some other details about the flood made it an especially gripping and fascinating read.

Highly recommended - The connection between the historical and contemporary characters is obvious, the romances they both experience predictable, and there were a few minor plot points that I thought were just unnecessary and weird, but none of those things mattered at all to me while I was reading. I thought the prose was very good, I cared about the characters, and the choice of the Johnstown Flood as the historical setting made the story a unique one. I raced through The Woman in the Photo and enjoyed every minute. Five great books in a single week and a book festival combined to knock my reading slump on its knees, so I'll definitely remember The Woman in the Photo fondly for its role in breaking my slump, as well.

©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, August 23, 2016

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans - F2F Report

I read Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans as an ARC, last year, and was so enthusiastic about it (it's in my top 5 from the last 5-10 years) that I took it with me to my book group the month I read it. I knew they would not read and discuss it right away because we only select books available in paperback -- and preferably obtainable from the library -- but when it eventually became available, our group leader added it to the calendar and we discussed it last week.

The author and I are Twitter friends, so I asked her if she had any insight to offer and she kindly sent me the material that's included in the American paperback copy along with a Q/A, both of which were very insightful. I particularly wanted to know if there was anything she wanted to point out about the book and I'll get to that in a second.

Crooked Heart tells the story of a young evacuee from London during the Blitz, Noel, and the woman who takes him in. Here's a link to my review:

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans 

I read the Q/A aloud because we all had those blank looks you sometimes get when there aren't any prepared discussion questions and nobody's exactly sure where to begin. I occasionally stopped to say something or ask opinions about one of her answers and by the time I reached the end of the Q/A, discussion had been nicely stirred up.

In both of the documents, the author mentions wanting to write about the "underside" of the Blitz and this is what she mentioned to me when I asked if there was anything in particular that she wanted to note. The underside she's referring to are the people who cheated or stole during the Blitz, just as they normally would - and how she researched a sector of society often overlooked because they weren't the type to either be interviewed about how they lived or to write memoirs. This was done via local newspapers of the time, with particular focus on the Herts Advertiser and St. Albans Times, a now-defunct paper that contained "a patchwork of stories that reflected all aspects of wartime provincial life, where bomb news and black-out advice nudged shoulders with accounts of Masonic Social Nights and lists of people being prosecuted for defaulting on the rates".

We talked about hometown newspapers that contained similar snippets. Most everyone knew of a paper that had done the same. My hometown called its one-paragraph reports the "City Briefs" and they were immensely entertaining, from birth announcements to petty crimes, accidents, reports of loose animals and strange happenings around town, etc.

The author spoke about whether or not her characters were "morally shaky" and how one person labeled Crooked Heart a "children's book" because one of the characters was 10 (and then 11) years old. We talked about the morality of the characters but I neglected to mention something that really jumped out at me on the second reading. The first time, I thought of Vee -- who goes door-to-door asking for donations to various organizations, such as support for widows and orphans of pilots killed in the war -- as a horrid person who eventually softens. But, the second time I read the book I realized that Vee was just doing what she knew how to do to help her family survive; she worked incredibly hard to keep everyone fed and satisfied, in spite of the fact that nobody ever expressed gratitude. The fact that I paid attention to Vee's efforts, the second time through, made the book even more appealing -- and it was already a 5-star book.

One of our members mentioned that she found her way into reading adult books, during a time that YA did not exist, by reading any novel that contained a child. The author herself said she didn't mind if it was accepted as a read for children, as well, although that was not her intent. I don't recall what we said about that but I should mention that the book is free of anything that one might consider too offensive for children and it's certainly a book that I would have loved as a child, since my interest in WWII began around the age of 9 or 10.

We talked about the complexity of the book, the cleverness of Evans' plotting, and the vividness of the scenes. Everyone was particularly impressed with the scene in which Vee is hunting for a missing Noel and they're caught in a bombing raid, how the bombs grew closer and closer and the horror of knowing that they were in the path of those bombs was so visceral. It was very much a "you were there" type of scene and I think we were in agreement that it will stick in our minds for quite some time.

Mattie, Noel's godmother, who appears in the prologue and whose impact on Noel continues throughout the story, also was mentioned both because she was such a wonderful character and we were all happy to hear that the author is going backwards in time to tell Mattie's story in her next novel. Everyone loved Mattie.

Finally, one of our members asked for a summing up of everyone's opinion: thumbs up or down? It was unanimous: everyone gave it a thumbs up. Generally speaking, a book that everyone agrees on is one that doesn't generate the best discussion and there were times we lost the thread, but never for long. Crooked Heart contains such fascinating characters and scenes that there was plenty to discuss. I was relieved that everyone enjoyed the book, since I recommended it. It's always a great feeling when the majority (in this case, all) love a book you recommend and rather a horror when a title falls flat and/or is one that nobody really wants to talk about, so I went home happy.

Bottom line: Crooked Heart is a solid discussion book that everyone in my group loved. And, it's still one of my favorites. There's much to be enjoyed on a second reading and I imagine I'll reread it many times, in the future.

©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, August 22, 2016

Monday Malarkey - A book festival, a pretty stack, and a marvelous reading week

Happy Monday! I hope your weekend was as amazing as mine. I went to our local book festival, this weekend, and got to meet my blog friend Brittanie for the first time. It's crazy that it's taken us this long to meet in person. We only live about 30 miles from each other and we've known each other for at least 8 years via blogging. So exciting to finally meet her! We sat together for "A Conversation with Kate DiCamillo". This is a terrible phone photo but here's Kate during the book signing, after she spoke:

After I took this photo (and a few others that are even worse), my phone camera gave me an error message so I was unable to take any other pics but I also got to sit in on the short story panel (which included author Rick Bass) and a bit of a conversation with Jacqueline Woodson. I had to duck out of the Jacqueline Woodson event early to meet my husband because he'd dropped me off at the festival and we were meeting at a pre-arranged time but all the sessions I attended were wonderful.

New arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs - from Quirk Books for review
  • Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends by David Stabler and Doogie Horner, and
  • Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle - both also from Quirk for review
  • How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life during the Second World War by Norman Longmate - purchased 
  • Searching for Fannie Quigley by Jane G. Haigh - purchased
  • Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammy Sauer and Vanessa Brantley-Newton and
  • If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum and Dasha Tolstikova - both from Sterling Children's Books for review
Not pictured:
  • Flora and Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo - purchased
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee - purchased (Kathi Appelt was also at the book festival but I did not get to see her)

So, clearly I wasn't kidding when I recently mentioned that I'd accepted a few books for review and that I was craving children's reads. I've discovered children's books are especially important as mental break books for me when I'm having a slumpy month or year -- and this has been a terrible reading year for me. Between these exciting arrivals and the book festival, I'm suddenly enjoying my reading, again. I sat down immediately to read the Sterling books when they arrived; and then read them a second time. I've also already read one of the Kate DiCamillo books I bought, Flora and Ulysses.

How We Lived Then is a book author Lissa Evans described as the book that first stimulated her interest in WWII (in the extra info at the back of the American edition of Crooked Heart). It's just the kind of book I've been hoping to find for years. I'm ridiculously thrilled to have it. Searching for Fannie Quigley is a book about a remarkable woman who lived alone in the Alaskan wilderness; it was on my PBS wishlist for years. I occasionally choose one of the titles I've desired to read the longest and can't acquire locally from that list and order it. Fannie Quigley was on my wishlist for about 8 years. Huh, that makes me appear either very cheap or extremely patient, doesn't it?

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans - I started to write about my F2F discussion on Thursday but last week was one of those weeks that I couldn't find myself coming or going, I was so busy. Hopefully, I'll get that finished, soon. It was a fun discussion.
  • Mary Had a Little Glam by T. Sauer and V. Brantley-Newton
  • If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by J. Esbaum and D. Tolstikova
  • The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan
  • Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Such a fun reading week.

Currently reading:

  • 14 Seconds to Hell by Nick Carter - Pulp fiction sent to me by my friend Bob, a few years back. I came across the titles he sent when I was looking for my copy of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, my F2F group's September read. 14 Seconds is billed as a spy novel (likened to James Bond) but it's really male fantasy. Agent Nick Carter is working with a female Russian agent to stop a Chinese scientist from detonating bombs around the globe. Within moments of meeting her, he addresses Alexi as "honey" and somehow turns her into a sex fiend, poor girl (and, yes, he refers to her as a "girl" agent). Since then, he's fallen into bed with her two more times in 3 chapters, also called her "sweetie" and "doll" and "patted her firm little fanny". Then he wonders to himself, might the Russians have sent a nymphomaniac to work with him? Ohmygosh. We've come a long way since the 1960s. 
  • A Square Meal by Coe and Ziegelman - Yep. Still reading it. I should finish it by late October, at this rate. 

Last week's posts:

Not a big posting week because I was so busy. Hopefully, I'll find more time to write, this week, although my calendar is looking pretty crammed. Eh, whatever. I'll post when I can. On the plus side, I'm excited about reading, again, for the first time in months. Hopefully, that will continue!

©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, August 19, 2016

Fiona Friday - Checking out the camera

©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, August 17, 2016

A book that made me pause to think about reviewing: Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown

I haven't had to deal with this particular dilemma in quite a while because I've become so brutal about stopping and actually giving away books that don't work for me that almost no book gets a rating below 3 out of 5 stars, these days (at Goodreads) or a neutral or "not recommended" rating, here, but this book really made me pause. I was sucked in enough to finish the book -- I just didn't like where the author took me. I can't remember the last time I felt so dramatically conflicted about whether or not I should even write a review.

The photo above is a pun . . . on the thought of pausing before I decided whether or not to review. Pause, paws. I know it's bad.

I adore the cover of Modern Girls and it's very fitting because one of the two main characters is a young, working woman. Also, I'm a sucker for a red dress cover:

I wrestled with whether or not to even put the title in my subject line because I don't want to draw too much attention to a book that I gave a very low rating. The writing itself is not bad -- too detailed, perhaps, but it flows very well. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe the problem was a matter of expectation versus reality. When I agreed to review Modern Girls, I knew it was the story of two women dealing with unexpected pregnancies against a backdrop in which WWII is on the horizon. I did hope the WWII aspect would become prominent as the story progressed because WWII is my absolute favorite historical setting. However, by the time I got around to reading, I had pretty much convinced myself that Modern Girls was a WWII book -- even though I knew it began with the focus firmly on the two pregnancies because this reading was my second attempt.

*****SPOILER ALERT!!! Skip down to the END SPOILER line if you plan to read Modern Girls, soon!!! THERE ARE DEFINITELY SPOILERS*****

Here's the deal: Dottie and her mother Rose are both pregnant. Both pregnancies are unexpected. Dottie's pregnancy is absolutely going to disrupt her life permanently if she doesn't hurriedly marry or miscarry. She is very talented with numbers and has an excellent job but it's the 1930s, a time when women are expected to give up their positions when they're "in a family way" and a time when pregnancy before marriage is not only shameful but damaging to the entire family.

Rose, on the other hand, is 42 and well aware that she hasn't given her youngest child the attention he deserved, instead leaving that to Dottie. Rose has lived through a lot of pain. She's experienced at least one miscarriage (herein lay one writing problem: from one point in the book to another, it seemed like the number of miscarriages and/or pregnancies changed) and lost one of her twin boys. Can she deal with starting over again at her age?

About 1/3 of the way in, I really thought Modern Girls would be a good book for discussion because the concept of abortion is brought up and that's heavy territory. Some groups couldn't handle that divisive a topic but I do believe the book group I'm in would be able to discuss it (if a bit loudly) without everyone going home hating each other. In the 1930s, of course, abortion was not legal in the United States and that meant what we used to call "back alley" abortions -- which were costly and dangerous because there were no guaranteed safety standards in some random abortionist's illegal office or living room or . . . wherever abortion was done. Many Americans want to return to making abortion illegal, of course, and the fact that making abortion illegal doesn't make it simply go away makes the topic ripe for discussion, emotional though it is for both sides.

Several other things were happening in the book, by this point. Rose's brother is stuck in Poland and unable to get a visa. Dottie's boyfriend is a devout Jew (they're all Jewish; the difference is that he is more devout than some of the other characters) and she believes the only way to salvage her pregnancy is to seduce him but he's said he wants them both to wait till marriage. The father of Dottie's child has a decent job and comes from money but is a playboy. Meanwhile, everyone is into politics, so there are always discussions about what's happening in Europe going on. I thought the talk of politics, the brother stuck in Poland, and eventually the playboy father's decision to work in Paris (a Jew working in France in the 1930s certainly seemed like set-up for a deeper plot change) all hinted that at some point the wheel was going to turn, Dottie would end up in Paris -- probably working to save her uncle -- and there would be danger! Nothing is more exciting in a book than placing the characters' lives in danger, right? But, no.

****END SPOILERS!!!! It's safe to read, now!****

While I did not like where the book took me, I confess to making assumptions that others clearly have not. Modern Girls really is just what it seemed in the first 1/3 of the book. It's a story about two women of different generations dealing with the same dilemma: unwanted pregnancy. That's it. When only 1/4 of the book was left (I hope you like fractions; I'm really throwing in the fractions), I realized there was no way the book was going where I thought it was going to go. So, then I had myself convinced that it must be the first in a series and it was going to end on a cliffhanger.

Well, it ended in a way that didn't feel complete to me -- actually, at a point where I would have been happy for the book to begin -- but it wasn't until I began to read the author interview at the back of the book that I realized it was a stand-alone as I'd originally thought.

Neither recommended or not recommended but not for me - Modern Girls is a book many, many people have told me they loved and my low rating at Goodreads (2.5/5 - rounded up to three stars but mentioned as a 2.5 in the review) will not hurt the author. There are more positive reviews than negative. So, that's the main reason I felt a little wary of writing about the book at all. It works for a lot of people and I don't want to put off potential readers who might really enjoy the book. I think, though, that I'd have been happier knowing that the WWII aspect would never become dominant. If you like a dilemma about unwanted pregnancies but don't mind the WWII setting remaining a backdrop rather than a central issue, you'll be fine. It's more of a character-driven book than a plot-heavy book and I favor movement of plot over relationships, in general. Modern Girls just wasn't the book for 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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Hope you all had a delightful weekend! Mine was great. It rained all weekend, but we're on our 4th week of daily rain alternating with bursts of sunshine and at some point I guess you just become accustomed to it. We're not getting the floody rains of our neighbors to the South, so we have reason to be grateful.

New arrivals: 

  • The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper and 
  • Home Field by Hanna Gersen, both from William Morrow for review

HarperCollins (of which Wm Morrow is an imprint) is pretty much the only publisher from whom I continued accepting review books, presuming I'd return but not wanting to overdo, these past few months. But, as I mentioned, it was the children's books that I really missed. So, I've gone back through my emails and accepted a few that were offered when I wasn't paying attention. I'm surprised how giddy I am about the children's books. I really cannot wait until they arrive. Clearly, the cats (and possibly a grandchild) are going to have some fun reading time ahead of them. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown - A book that has made me think about writing a post about posting. I may work on that, later today. The ending of the book posed a dilemma for me. 

Currently reading:

  • A Square Meal by Ziegelman and Coe - about 1/3 of the way through. Told you I'd be reading it for a long time. Still enjoying it. This week, I learned about the bread lines in New York and how concern grew that people were both taking advantage of them (no records were kept and they were held at different times of the day, so some men could stand in as many as 8 bread lines in a day) and they only met the needs of unemployed males rather than their entire families, as well as how such concerns led to reduction in the number of bread lines and changes in how they were run. It's all fascinating. 
  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans - Loving this every bit as much as I did the first time! F2F discussion is Wednesday and with our iffy weather I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to go. I don't drive to meetings if it's raining, just to be on the safe side. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Our local art museum has a fabulous exhibit of modern art collected by Roy R. Neuberger, which my bestie and I visited, a couple weeks ago. There's an Alexander Calder mobile that we got moving by stirring the air with our exhibit brochures (and some help from one of the security people, who grabbed a stiff binder and joined in), a Mark Rothko, a Jackson Pollack . . . great stuff. And, after taking a photo of a collage that I liked, I decided, "Hey, I want to try that." So, I've been working on a collage using a photo of Isabel peeking out of her cardboard castle. Husband got a kick out of that. It's not finished but when he saw what I'm doing, he laughed and said, "So, you're going to turn our walls into a modern art gallery?" Hmm . . . not a bad idea. But, no, it's just one collage, although I'm collecting things for a second one. At any rate, I'm still having an awfully fun time playing with paint and, now, glue.

And, here's a photo of Isabel being just a little bit wicked while our laid-back Fiona blithely watches on. Izzy was attacking Fiona's box. Fiona was, I think, a bit amused. It didn't bother her at all. They never cease to entertain 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.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

My copy of Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton shows off its age with the hyphen in the word "good-bye". I just finally noticed this, today. The copy shown is an illustrated "Junior Deluxe Edition" printed by Little, Brown in 1962. Because it's technically novella length and it doesn't appear to have been watered down in any way, I'm certain the "junior" aspect is the addition of illustrations, rather than any editing to suit a younger crowd.

I saw the movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips (no hyphen in that title!) as a child and fell in love with its warmth. Like another book I recently got around to reading decades after seeing the movie version, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the story stuck with me, but in a vague way. I knew it was about an elderly man who spent many years teaching and I remembered that he died in the end. Otherwise, the details were lost to time.

But, unlike The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I found the book every bit as satisfying as the memory of the movie. Miss Brodie's teaching style is one I've always wished I had access to, but as an individual, her character suffered from an inflated ego and damaged judgment. Mr. Chips, on the other hand, grew in my estimation. He begins the story as a young classics teacher who is only average in his teaching method and not particularly a standout in any other way. But, then he marries a bright, younger woman who is full of energy, enthusiasm, and unexpected wisdom. Her joy and kindness rub off on Mr. Chips during their brief marriage; and, because of her he becomes a favorite of the students. After retiring, he continues to stay involved in the lives of the children, inviting new students to his small home for tea and keeping track of them well into adulthood. He returns to teaching during the Second World War and steps aside when it ends.

Because it's novella length, Good-bye, Mr. Chips is not very detailed. He'll recall, for example, the time a young boy set a mouse loose in the choir loft but the reader is left to imagine what kind of chaos a mouse in a choir loft might have entailed because there's absolutely no description at all. The book is focused on the fact that he grew from a relatively boring teacher to one who was beloved, whose sense of humor was set free, who was changed immensely and made a better person by the touch of a single person's love, even though her presence in his life was short-lived. It's really a lovely story.

Highly recommended - Originally written and published in a magazine, Good-bye, Mr. Chips is a short and tightly written story that is gratifying and heartwarming. I'm glad I finally got around to reading 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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fiona Friday - We are not amused

This isn't a great photograph (Fiona looks particularly grumpy, doesn't she?) but it was one of my two favorite moments, this week. I adore those times when I walk past the cats and they're just happily sitting or lying side-by-side, being sisterly.

My other favorite photo is even worse. I took a photo of the two kitties eskimo kissing. It was a phone pic and it didn't focus quickly enough. But, it still warms my heart. When you've been owned by cats who didn't get along well, you really appreciate kitties who like each other.

©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, August 11, 2016

The Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone by Tasha Brandstatter

Anybody who knows me well might find my decision to buy and read The Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone by Tasha Brandstatter a wee bit bizarre because I don't drink alcoholic beverages, apart from the odd glass of cider (usually, when I'm in England -- you can imagine how often that happens). And, then there are those rare sips of wine that my husband nudges me to take and the one cocktail I tried at a rooftop bar. Seriously, that's it. I am not a drinker. I love a good cider on tap, but otherwise I've never developed a taste for alcohol. Remember the news that a glass of wine per day burns as many calories as an hour at the gym? Sigh. I really did try to learn how to drink wine for my health.

This purchase was all down to the fact that Tasha is our Tasha, a book and cocktail blogger and contributor to Book Riot, as well as one of my Facebook buddies. I love her sharp, sassy writing style and I like supporting friends with a book purchase, whenever possible.

So, what did this non-drinker think of a book about drinking? Unsurprisingly, I was entertained. I knew I would be, since I've read Tasha's writing. I know she does her research, so reading anything she writes is a learning experience, and I like her snarky sense of humor. The only thing I found missing was a single definition that probably everyone else knows: "bitters". I had no idea what bitters are and had to look them up. There were a couple other terms I only recently learned ("muddling" was one of them) when I read a book of non-alcoholic beverage recipes, but again . . . if you're a drinker, you probably already know everything that's mentioned.

Recommended - Maybe not for your average teetotaller but I found The Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone a delightful read and I think even extroverted drinkers may find plenty to enjoy. I particularly found it fascinating to read about the health benefits of drinking, in spite of the fact that it's unlikely I'll ever rack up any of those benefits.

©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, August 08, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I can't believe I'm back to writing weekly Malarkey posts. There was a time, while I was away, that I honestly thought I would never return. But, here I am and I'm perfectly happy. It's true that I'm flighty.

New arrivals:

  • Leveling the Playing Field by Rod Scher - Received from Les of Prairie Horizons for review (her husband's latest book!)
  • An Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone by Tasha Brandstatter - Bought to support our very own Tasha, book blogger and cocktail blogger and contributor to Book Riot and other publications. I already read this and will tell you about it, soon. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye (link to review in Last week's posts, below)
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hinton - My classic choice of the month, originally written for sale to a magazine, probably technically novella length. 
  • An Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone by Tasha Brandstatter - A quick, informative read that pretty much had me convinced I need to take up drinking for my health (but I probably never will).

Currently reading:

  • A Square Meal by Ziegelman and Coe - I'll be reading this one for a while. I just pick it up and read a chapter whenever I get the urge. It's truly fascinating but not the kind of book you gobble up in an afternoon. 
  • Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown - Just started reading, last night. This is a second attempt. The first time I picked it up, I was in the mood for something deeper. This time, it's the right book for the moment. 

I've gotten quite a few offers to review, lately, and I confess to having ignored them all - even the ones that appeal to me. I like not tripping over books and my time away from blogging really helped me clear up those piles that were lying about everywhere. So, I hope that I'll be extremely discriminating. I've really enjoyed reading off my own shelves, lately. 

Last week's posts:

I don't expect to post so frequently every week, but I guess it was just one of those weeks that I felt like jabbering.

I hear it's International Cat Day, so here's a collage of the kitties, taken today:

Love those sweet faces.

©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.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye

I first heard about Safe from the Sea from author Alex George, who highly recommended it, and then got a second recommendation from a friend who read one of Peter Geye's other books. It was after the latter recommendation that I decided it was time to stop eyeing the book (which I own) and start reading.

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye is mostly the story of the protagonist and narrator's father, Olaf Torr. Olaf worked boats on the Great Lakes and in 1967, he was one of only three survivors of a tragic accident. Books have been written about the foundering of the Ragnarok and there's a museum exhibit about it. Yet, he's never really spoken of the experience that broke him and why it had such an overwhelming impact on his life.

Thirty-five years after the disaster, his son Noah gets a call from Olaf. Noah lives in Boston, where he's having his own difficulties. His wife Natalie has had numerous miscarriages and their desire for a child has become an obsession. When Olaf calls to tell Noah that he's sick and needs help, Natalie is unsure she wants her husband to go. Neither of them has seen Olaf since their wedding. But, Noah feels obligated and maybe even has a desire to see if he can learn about the incident that destroyed his father and changed his own life for the worse.

Gradually, the story unfolds. Olaf is dying and finally willing to share what happened and why it changed him. And, as Noah learns the story of his past and spends time in his grandfather's home, he finds his love of the beauty and majesty of the place he knew as a child quickly reawakening.

Recommended but not a favorite - Geye's writing style is very masculine and fairly spare. I liked the writing. But, I have mixed feelings about Safe from the Sea. It was a hard book for me to get through because I was once the child hoping to convince the dying parent to explain what broke her. I did not succeed. That's clearly not the book's fault, nor is there anything wrong with the fact that Olaf was dying of cancer, something I avoid reading about because it's too painful -- at least that part was secondary. But, because of my own history, it simply could not be a favorite read.

Will I read this author, again? Absolutely. I did love the ending, which I found satisfying, and, wow, isn't that cover beautiful?

©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, August 05, 2016

Fiona Friday - The princess is bemused

Why is someone putting a crown on Princess Isabel during naptime? The princess is bemused.

©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, August 03, 2016

If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society . . .

I've never thought to do this before, but while I was reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I kept thinking of another book that didn't get anywhere near the attention but is every bit as deserving. If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you really must read Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans.

Both books center around WWII, although Crooked Heart takes place in London around and during the time of the Blitz and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tells the story of the occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands during WWII but is told upon reflection and the main character is a writer whose story unfolds in a series of letters.

Crooked Heart is about a little boy and the con woman who takes him in and how he softens her, over time. She is a horrid character, at least at first. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel . . . ugh, let's just call it "Guernsey Literary". . . is about a community as much as it's about the protagonist.

Both books contain a marvelous blend of humor with some very serious war scenes. Neither takes WWII lightly, and yet they both manage to be entertaining and light-hearted, in spite of the heartbreak of war.

I'm getting set to reread Crooked Heart for F2F discussion, soon. It's by far one of the most memorable books I've read in the past 5 years (released in 2015) and I can't wait to reread 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.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

July Reads in Review, 2016

July (links lead to Goodreads reviews)

56. The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes - Juliet dreams of being a scientist. But, when her brother goes missing in Italy during WWII, she trains as a nurse and works to get herself stationed in Italy, hoping to find him. Instead, she finds herself dealing with the horrors of war and conspiring to save a man who may be put to death because of the cruelty of those he fought with. Such a visceral read. I loved this book and will save it for a reread.

57. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson - When Laura is sent to boarding school, she finds that everything is much more difficult than expected. She wears the wrong clothes, has a widowed mother who has to work for a living, and she's poor. She's also well behind in her studies and has difficulty making friends. Will Laura ever learn how to fit in? The answer is "sorta, kinda but nah." Just when things seem to be going well, everything always crashes down around her. An interesting book (and one of my Australian purchases) but not one I plan to ever reread.

58. In the Winter Dark by Tim Winton - I recommend bopping through the link to read my Goodreads review. This book included cat torture, so you can imagine what a rough time I had with it. And, yet the writing is brilliant. Something is killing animals in a place called the Sink, a rural area where there's a wealthy man, a farmer and his wife, and a young pregnant woman and her boyfriend (who has just left her). They band together to try to stop the killer. But, not everyone will come out alive.

59. The Fireman by Joe Hill - Warning: My Goodreads review contains spoilers. When a fungus called Dragonscale, which can literally cause people to go up in flames, infects much of the population and burns large swathes of land, some of the infected take it upon themselves to start killing the "burners". Harper is a pregnant nurse, infected and in danger. "The Fireman" rescues her and takes her to a camp where people have learned to live with Dragonscale and even use it to their advantage. But, with Cremation Crews anxious to destroy everyone with the disease, how long can they stay in hiding? I liked but didn't love The Fireman; and, in fact, once it got to the gruesome, violent stage, I realized I need to give up Joe Hill. His books are just a little too intense for me. I think he could write an exceptional suspense (would love a scary ghost story lacking violence) if he was willing to forego the graphic violence, but until and unless he writes a book without the gore, I'm done with his writing. I did, however, really enjoy participating in #FiremanAlong on Twitter!

60. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - I think everyone I know has read this book about Juliet, a young writer struggling to find subject matter for her next book after WWII ends and finding not only the subject but friendship from the many people of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, who write to her to share their personal stories. A wonderful book, the kind you clutch to your chest with happy tears in your eyes. I will definitely reread this one.

Only five books! So, not a great month, but that was expected. In fact, I only took two books with me on vacation: Gone With the Wind because I figured I would probably have little reading time so I might as well focus on a chunkster, and The Secret of Raven Point for times when I needed a break from GWTW.

As it turned out, my copy of GWTW started to fall apart when I hit about p. 100 and by p. 150, pieces were literally chipping off and falling into my hands. The book is old, but I didn't expect it to crumble! I decided I'd better set it aside, at that point, and I do plan to buy a new copy, soon. That was when I read The Secret of Raven Point. After I finished Raven Point, I went out looking for reading material at Abbey's Bookshop in Sydney and that is, in fact, where I made all of my book purchases. But, at first I just bought The Getting of Wisdom. As I neared the end, I bought the rest of the classics that came home with me and read the Tim Winton mostly on the first flight (the final few pages took days for my jetlagged self to get through -- the return trip is a beast).

So, while it was a low-volume month, it was totally expected. Including travel time, we were gone for two weeks and we fell into bed exhausted, each night. We meant to enjoy every minute of our time there and reading was, for once, a secondary activity. I'm okay with that. But, I do hope August will be an improvement, reading-wise. The scenery (mostly my front yard) will definitely not be as much of a thrill.

©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, August 01, 2016

Monday Malarkey - Surprise!

I can't even remember how long I've been gone but SURPRISE! I'm back!

Three books arrived, this weekend, and I've been considering returning for one reason: I miss reviewing children's books. I'm still having an off reading year and I'm still just trying to tolerate it. It's distressing when you're used to reading 3-4 books per week and you frequently (not just occasionally but frequently!) realize you don't feel like reading at all when your normal reading time rolls around. It is what it is. I'm sure I'll move past it someday, but 2016 is just not going to be a high-volume reading year and I'm learning to live with it.

The new arrivals, from top to bottom (all from HarperCollins):

  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  • Intimations by Alexandra Kleeman (short stories)
  • Mercury by Margot Livesey

At least two or three other books arrived from HarperCollins but I neglected to set them aside to photograph. However, I'm reading one of them.

Current reads (sorry, no picture):

  • Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye - I'm finding this one beautifully written but a bit of a slog. Might just be my inability to focus for long; I think it's a solid read and I'm going to continue.
  • A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe (this is the HarperCollins) - Beginning with ravenous soldiers returning from WWI to feasts held in their honor, this book proceeds onward to describing how "efficiency experts" tried to teach housewives to reduce their movements and minimize their kitchen time, also encouraging them to build smaller kitchens for efficiency. Farm wives kept track of how they spent their days, using pie charts. Amazingly, they didn't care about efficiency. They were accustomed to working 16-hour days but loved the satisfaction of a job well done. Absolutely loving this book. The writing is a little flat but the content is engrossing.

July ended up being my worst reading month, by far, in an already sluggish year. But, for good reason. We were on vacation for nearly two weeks and it was a go-go-go vacation to Australia.

We were on our feet almost all day, every day (except for the two days of bus tours). I brought home a few Australian books, naturally, all inexpensive classics because Australian books are shockingly expensive but these were reasonable and I want to continue with my Australian reading:

Top to bottom:

  • For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (a book I read electronically, last year, and have wanted to own in paper, since)
  • The True Story of Spit MacPhee by James Aldridge
  • The Commandant by Jessica Anderson
  • Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne (pretty sure this one is set in New Zealand, in spite of the title)
  • The Chantic Bird by David Ireland

I'll post my pitiful stack of July reads, tomorrow. There are two more Australian books in that stack. The fact that I began the month with a chunkster (which I had to quit reading when it started to fall apart) and then read another probably contributed to my thin stack. I'm hoping to purchase a replacement of my 1970s copy of Gone With the Wind and return to it, soon. That's the book that started falling to pieces as I read it. Fortunately, it's so memorable that I know I'll have no trouble picking up where I left off.

What's been 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.