Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Some weeks you post cats and otters and such

Isabel models my current sentiments:

Ever step away from your blog for a while and when you come back, it's like you're blinking into the light thinking, "What is this? Where am I?" And, possibly, "Why am I here?"

Yeah, long week, already. I skipped Monday Malarkey because it was a holiday and I had my people at home, but then I skipped Tuesday because it hurt (ouch, migraine) and Wednesday just wants to crush me because it's rude. So, here . . . a totally unsolicited, semi-focused otter:

And, I'll talk to you about books another day. It's not unusual for me to feel a little meh during Book Expo America week because, 11 years into blogging (11 years, as of next week), I've never made it to BEA. Probably never will. I just thought I'd say hey.


©2017 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 26, 2017

Fiona Friday

Kind of a strange picture because the focus is on Isabel's tail, rather than her face. But, I like it, even though she was clearly a bit irritated with me for disturbing her nap.

©2017 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 24, 2017

The Plague by Albert Camus

When leaving his surgery on the morning of April 16, Dr. Bernard Rieux felt something soft under his foot. It was a dead rat lying in the middle of the landing. On the spur of the moment he kicked it to one side and, without giving it a further thought, continued on his way downstairs. Only when he was stepping out into the street did it occur to him that a dead rat had no business to be on his landing  [...]

~p. 7

In Oran, a city on the coast of Algeria, the citizens are only mildly alarmed by the appearance of dying rats, at the beginning of The Plague. First, a trickle of rats emerging from their hidden homes is taken by Monsieur Michel, the concierge of Dr. Bernard Rieux's building, as a sign that an unhappy tenant or a hooligan is leaving them for him to clean up after. But, then the rats begin to appear throughout the town. They stagger and then die, the number of dead rats growing until they're piled in heaps and the city struggles to keep up with their disposal. Then, Michel falls ill and dies in agony and gradually, the disease spreads.

Dr. Rieux is among the first to suspect that Bubonic Plague is the culprit. But, even he has his doubts and both the city officials and the other doctors in town are hesitant to declare an emergency for fear of panicking the citizens. As the crisis grows, eventually the city officials concede to the facts and begin to organize, separating the sick from the healthy, taking over schools and apartment buildings when the hospital overflows, and finally closing the town's gates to keep the disease from spreading beyond the town's walls. While news from outside the town walls becomes difficult to come by, local reporting focuses on the number of casualties, the shortages of food and other necessities, and the need for volunteers to help with the disposal of bodies. Slowly, the disease peaks and tapers off, leaving the survivors shaken but ready to return to normal. But, their world will never be quite the same.

During the time I was reading The Plague, I didn't give a lot of thought to the theory that the story is considered by many to be an allegory for the invasion by Nazis in WWII (there's another possibility about its meaning that I don't recall). The story is so focused on the logistics of the city's efforts to combat the plague, the doctor's efforts and exhaustion, and the longing for loved ones from whom many are separated that I found it a little difficult to step back and look at the big picture until after I finished the book. Instead, I observed it from the micro view of the individual characters and how the plague impacted their lives: a doctor exhausting himself, a journalist from elsewhere who desperately wants to escape Oran and return to his wife, a man with a small life but lots of optimism who has decided to write a book but can't get beyond the first paragraph, a tenant who attempts suicide and ends up unexpectedly thriving during the plague. The characters are pretty fascinating.

And then, well after closing the book, I got it. First, a few rats appear from obscurity and nobody is particularly alarmed. [Nazis appear but everyone thinks they'll fade away.] Then, the rats' presence explodes and they become problematic, but still the officials hesitate to acknowledge the danger. The rats' disease invades the city. [The city is invaded by Nazis.] The plague hits and people begin to die. [War.] Time passes and the plague continues to kill at a relentless pace; people are exterminated by the disease. [Hitler's extermination of Jews.] A small band of stalwarts continue the fight. Some are killed off. [Perhaps the Resistance?] Eventually, the plague ends and people celebrate, but things are not the same as they were before the plague. Many have lost loved ones and friends.

That may not be the best analysis but I can see how one might view The Plague as an allegory, now, whereas I was caught up in the emotion and the logistics while I was reading the book.

Recommended - A brilliantly written but ponderous story in which you can practically feel the painfully slow passage of time as a plague stretches out for months on end, locking citizens away from the rest of the world and separating many from their loved ones. Is it an allegory for WWII? I don't know. I'm not sure what the consensus is, either, as I only briefly skimmed information about the book. But, I can see now why people view it as such. The Plague was my classic choice for the month of April and won't be my last by Camus. I'm pretty sure I have a copy of The Stranger around here, somewhere. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

For posterity: There was an interesting philosophy in few words that I want to write down for the sake of my own memory (so I can take the flags out of the book): "Big fish eat little fish." Interesting way of expressing "liberal ideas, as his pet dictum on economic questions". I won't comment on how I feel about it; I just liked the expression.

Last thought: The book could be a bit gruesome, at times, but Camus kept the more graphic scenes to a minimum, so it's not too bad if you're faint of heart and prefer not to read about the gory details of a ghastly disease.

©2017 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.

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

This is going to be one of those reviews that I quickly bury because I really don't like writing overly negative reviews and this one is going to lean negative (but I'll mention the positive and try to keep it as balanced as possible, no worries).

Same Beach, Next Year is about two couples who become lasting friends. Adam and Eve were lovers, way back in high school, but both are happily married when they and their spouses vacation in the same condominium complex in South Carolina. Adam's wife Elyse notices the looks that pass between the former lovers while Eve's husband Carl is too busy flirting with Elyse to pay much attention. The two couples become fast friends after Carl, a doctor, puts his doctoring skills to use when one of Adam and Elyse's twins is injured. For twenty years they vacation together while weathering the trials that come of parenting and living near their extended families.

Then, one day Adam and Eve are at their respective condominiums alone. Adam sees a light in Eve's place and goes to check it out, staying to talk late into the night when he finds that all is well. Elyse and Carl find the two asleep on Eve and Carl's sofa in the morning and both Elyse and Carl go ballistic, believing the two must have slept together. Their marriages crumbling, Carl leaves Eve and Elyse takes a long-desired trip to Greece to visit the family she hasn't seen since her childhood. When tragedy strikes, will Elyse and Carl find it in their hearts to forgive?

Okay, let's start with the positive: Same Beach, Next Year has good bones. Unfortunately, that's about all I can say I liked about the book, the fact that "stuff happens". It's got some interesting plot points. The problems with Same Beach, Next Year are, in my humble opinion, manifold. One is the lack of distinction between the two viewpoints: Adam's and Elyse's. When you're in Elyse's head, she is thinking about her life - the meals she cooks, the children and her husband and how perfect their life is, descriptions of various home interiors, her thoughts about the people around her. And, guess what? Adam is all about Elyse - what a perfect cook and hostess she is, how lucky he is to have her, blah, blah. He doesn't think like a man; he sounds exactly like a mirror image of Elyse.

My second problem with the book is that there are a lot of throw-away lines. For example, at some point Elyse thinks it would be nice to try for a little girl. But, then nothing happens. There is never a discussion between Adam and Elyse about having a third child and the line fits absolutely nowhere in the plot. She never becomes pregnant, never thinks about a third child again. And, this:

I had prepared an early supper of spaghetti with tomato sauce and lots of grated Asiago cheese instead of Parmesan. ~ p. 52

WHAT? I don't know how long I stared at that sentence, just wondering what the author was trying to say. Parmesan is what you're supposed to eat on spaghetti? Is she trying to tell me how to eat my pasta? What is the purpose of "instead of Parmesan"? Incidentally, "Maybe a girl would come to us?" is on the next page. I probably should have put the book down, at that point. But, I used to really enjoy Frank's books and continued, thinking it would undoubtedly improve. Nope. The throw-away lines continue. Late in the book, Elyse muses about social media ("a colossal waste of time") and one of the women says, "Wow," when another mentions that an elderly character gets all of her clothing from consignment shops. Just "wow", whatever that means. Are we supposed to frown upon her for not buying new items? Are they saying they're impressed at how well she chooses her clothing? I don't know.

Neither recommended or not recommended - The ratings at Goodreads are high and I confess I was never Dorothea Benton Frank's best audience, even though I enjoyed some of her earlier titles. I'm not a big fan of Southern fic; I simply liked them for the change of pace. If you like Frank's books, especially her recent work, you may enjoy Same Beach, Next Year. It's a "beachy" read, very brain light. I was disappointed with the last Frank book I read but thought she deserved one last chance. I will not read another book by this author, but I do think the book is well plotted and interesting things happen. It's just a very awkward read with a lot of meandering detail, the romance between couples is not very convincing, the heroine's world is too perfect, and I never really did like any of the main characters. It was not for me.

©2017 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 22, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley - from Sterling Children's Books for review - I've already read this and it is a hoot. 
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and 
  • Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell - both purchased and both not pictured because they just arrived (admittedly bought on impulse, although both are books that were on my mental wish list)

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley

I must have felt mentally foggy after finishing No Man's Land because everything I read, last week, including the book I'm about to finish, was extraordinarily on the light side. I'm glad I made that choice, though, because I loved what I read and feel energized, ready to dig into something deeper, now.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank - I am not a DBF fan and I'm pretty sure I once said I'd never read her, again, but I liked the sound of this particular book, storywise. I've been determined to do my best to enjoy it but it really has reminded me that the author is simply not for me. I'll try not to be too harsh in my review. The bones of the book are good. There's a nice story; it's the writing style and the superfluous description that I dislike. 

In other news:

It stormed over the weekend and it's supposed to rain all week. Apart from knocking over our planters and breaking a tree on the border of our property in two (technically, I think it's on the neighbor's property), the storms were noisy but not overly damaging - no tornadic activity, in other words, although the wind was clearly intense. We enjoyed the ambience. We watched Bridge of Spies after happening across it while channel-flipping and I have to say I think it will go on the mental list of my favorite movies. We were watching it on a movie channel during a free weekend, so there were no commercials and I had a terrible time tearing myself away to go fill a water cup. How was your weekend?

©2017 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 19, 2017

We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman and a Fiona Friday pic

I've been failing at blogging and a lot of other things, this week, due to the overwhelmingness of life, so I'm going to review my most recent read because it's an easy one to talk about.

We're All Damaged is contemporary fiction about a man whose wife divorced him after she became involved with a paramedic. Andy was devastated and escaped to New York City after making a fool of himself at his former brother-in-law and best friend Neal's wedding. It's been nearly a year since he left, but now Andy's grandfather is close to death and his mother has called him home. Back in Omaha, Andy spends time with his grandfather and meets a mysterious, tattooed woman who claims she can help him recover from his divorce. He blindly trusts her advice while dealing with the fallout from his self-destruction at the wedding and trying to protect his right-wing, radio-host mother from the Glitter Mafia (although he's pretty much on their side), a group of gay men who are dedicated to giving her a hard time.

Once again, I had to peek at the reviews to see what exactly it was that the people who disliked this book had to say. Meh, nothing major. It's basically lad lit, the male verson of chick lit, and I think most of those who read the book thought it was in some way lesser to their favorite contemporary male authors. That didn't bother me because I wasn't comparing anyone to anything. The reason I ended up reading We're All Damaged, in fact, was the fact that I'd just finished reading No Man's Land, a book in which a young man faced the hardship of life in poverty and then on the front lines of WWI. I was specifically looking for something a little low on depth, something light-hearted and fun.

We're All Damaged was perfect for the moment. I didn't see anything on my shelves that appealed to me so it was a Kindle download (from a recent Kindle First promotion) that grabbed me, for once. You know how often I read e-books, right? Almost never. I set down my iPad and forget about them. A book has to really grab me and suck me in to get finished if it's in electronic form. And, the thing is, We're All Damaged made me laugh out loud that first night when I opened it. That was enough for me. I was definitely going to finish that e-book.

There are really only two negative things worth mentioning about We're All Damaged and one is not an original thought, but I'll save that for last. I was not thrilled with the heavy use of pop culture references. I tend not to be up on my pop culture and, yes, a lot of those references were unfamiliar to me. You need to know what the author is referring to in order to fully understand the meaning behind the use of  chosen references and I opted to just read between the lines -- I think I got out of it what he desired, but in a more oblique fashion and that was mostly because I didn't feel like looking anything up (my fault - feeling lazy). The second thing is only a realization thanks to one of the reviews I read. Yes, the mysterious, tattooed girl, Daisy, fits the "manic pixie girl" concept. She appears for no apparent reason, magically helps Andy understand and work through his problems, and . . . well, I won't tell you what happens but she definitely plays a magic poof role. Having said that, I don't care. I enjoyed the book and that's what counts. It was a 5-star read for me because it was perfect for the moment, I liked the storyline, loved the characters, and it made me happy while I was reading.

A favorite feature (of course): There's a stray cat that Andy occasionally cares for and feeds in the New York City scenes. Thumbs up for the =^..^= scenes, particularly the final one.

Highly recommended -  Save We're All Damaged for when you've read something heavy and your head is about to explode if you don't get a light-reading break. You may or may not fall in love with Matt Norman's sense of humor but the story is nice and light, a little slapstick, with a tiny touch of romance and a satisfying dash of redemption. Personally, I love the author's sense of humor. I pretty much smiled all the way through the book.

Sweet Fi Closeup for Fiona Friday:

I've paired Fiona Friday with a review because I had such an incredibly busy week that I couldn't fathom not sneaking in a review while I have the time to write. Happy Weekend to all!

©2017 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 16, 2017

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien

The Jack Johnson shells tore towards them with a roar like an express train, throwing up clouds of heavy black smoke as they exploded. Most of them fell short, crashing into no man's land, but the concussion from one that burst inside the wire threw Adam back against the rear wall of the trench and half buried him under a cascade of exploding sand bags. 

Spitting out the earth and sand, he got to his feet and saw that everyone in the section had curled themselves up into foetal balls except for Rawdon, who as always seemed impervious to shelling. The belief in fate that Rawdon had subscribed to [...] had become even stronger since they arrived in France. "If it's got my name and address on it, it's goin' to find me anyway, so there's no point in cowerin' in the corner, screamin' for Mama," he had told Adam on more than one occasion, referring to the reactions of some of the other soldiers in the section. 

~p. 297 of No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien (minor spoiler removed)

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien is a book I accepted for review because of its description, but I confess the author's name added to the appeal. Yes, he is related to J.R.R. Tolkien. More on that in a minute. I did have to adjust my expectations about No Man's Land a bit because I thought it was strictly a WWI book and the protagonist doesn't go off to war until you're at least 40% into the book, but that was not a bad thing. Adam is the protagonist. Born in London, Adam lives a life of poverty that becomes increasingly desperate when the laborers at his father's workplace go on strike.

After tragedy strikes, his father moves the family to Yorkshire to work at a coal mine. Adam is an excellent student and is bullied, first for his father getting a job that the other miners believe should have been given to a local, and then for continuing to go to school rather than working in the mine. He also falls for the parson's beautiful daughter Miriam, but he has competition and the other fellow has money. When war breaks out, Adam ends up fighting on the front lines of the Somme with friends from Yorkshire. While the bonds of friendship tighten between Adam and his buddies he finds it increasingly difficult to connect with the girl he loves. Will Adam end up with the love of his life or will Miriam's mother convince her to marry for money rather than love? Who will live and who will die in France?

The book jacket says No Man's Land is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's experience and I took that to mean it was a tribute to Tolkien rather than a biographical novel. I presume I was probably correct because of the way the book ends, but it's worth mentioning because I noticed that at least one reviewer at Goodreads, whose review I read because I was baffled by the single-star rating, was hoping for a glimpse into the Lord of the Rings novelist's choice to write fantasy and there is nothing at all that even hints at inspiration for a fantasy novelist. Because I was not expecting a biographical novel, I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I found the book a little predictable and for that reason I took off a half point (I gave it a 4.5/5 at Goodreads). The predictability was only a factor of certain situations, though, as opposed to the plot being wholly predictable. And, a lot happens in No Man's Land so there were plenty of surprises. In general, the book is plotty enough for fans of plot-driven books but also descriptive enough and with enough depth of characterization to satisfy those who prefer character-driven novels.

Adam is a nice, strong character but he has a bit less personality than some of the other characters, so he was actually not my favorite. I adored Seaton, the eldest of the coal mine owner's sons, and came to love several of the friends who ended up together on the front lines. I've noticed sometimes an author will do a slightly better job of giving personality to the secondary characters, to the detriment of the hero or heroine, and I did think Adam suffered by comparison with some of the more vibrant personalities. But he's a good egg, he grows and changes throughout the novel, and he's very courageous. I liked him and desperately wanted him to survive the war.

Highly recommended - At close to 600 pages, No Man's Land is an immersive read, great for those who like a book you can sink your teeth into and with an ending I found satisfying. I liked the scope of the book - beyond the war itself and back to the protagonist's youth as an impoverished child of a laborer, then as a youngster living in a coal-mining town. One of the reasons it took me a long time to read the book (at least 2 weeks) was all the things I opted to look up. I looked up how coal miners looked in early 20th-Century UK, the German attack on Yorkshire during WWI (I'd never heard about that, before!), fashion in the 1920s, and Eaton Square in London's Belgravia, among other things. I like a book that makes me go running to the internet to look up additional information.

©2017 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 15, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson - from Workman Publishing via Shelf Awareness for review - This book looks so ridiculously fun that I really want to read it right now but it has a release date of October so I'll wait. 
  • Afterlife by Marcus Sakey - from Thomas and Mercer for review
  • Torchwood: World Without End by Barrowman, Barrowman, Fuso, Qualano, Lesko, and Edwards - Pre-ordered so long ago I'd forgotten about it (a year or two)

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien - At nearly 600 pages, this one took me quite a while, even when I decided to focus on it. I did have a couple of those nights when I was too tired to read, but on Sunday nobody was around and I only had about 100 pages left, so I immersed myself in it and only got up, now and then, to do chores or eat. That was fun! I usually only read at bedtime so it feels really decadent to spend an afternoon reading. 

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

In other news:

I turned on the TV and randomly flipped while I ate my supper last night, and ended up watching most of The Help. Nope, I've never seen the movie, before. I loved the book but really didn't think the movie would be for me. Boy, was I wrong. I couldn't tear myself away from it. I'd forgotten that parts of it were filmed in areas that I know, so I excitedly asked the husband if he knew they'd filmed at Brent's Drugs, a restaurant that looks like a time capsule, inside and out. He said, "That's the reason we went there in the first place - I heard about it when they were filming." Oh. Well, it was cool to see it on screen. I had my fender bender in the parking lot right in front of Brent's, last year. Bit of trivia for you.

©2017 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 12, 2017

Fiona Friday

This may be a weird choice (and, oops, Friday is almost over!) but it's my favorite kitty pic of the week because it was so precious. This is Izzy lying on my left foot. My knee was cramping and I had to hold the phone past the knee to snap this but if you're owned by cats you know what an honor it is to be snuggled by a kitty, especially one with anxiety issues. Isabel is pretty much terrified of everyone but me and even I get limited cuddles (usually when she drapes herself over my shoulder while lying on the couch cushion). I loved this moment.

©2017 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.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A little info about why I've posted two covers for my review of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart:

1. The cover at left is the UK cover and the one I have. The book has already been released in the UK and I opted to order a copy from Book Depository, partly because I liked the UK cover better and partly because I wanted to go ahead and read it, rather than waiting for the American release. Having read the book, I can tell you that both illustrations fit the text. I do prefer a the lighter, more cheerful coloring of the UK cover, so I'm happy with my purchase.

2. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has not yet been released in the US but the release is coming, soon, so it's undoubtedly available for pre-order, although I haven't looked. The cover at right is the US version. Because I'm in the US, I thought it would be appropriate to include both covers - the UK version I've purchased and read and the US version that is soon to be released. UPDATE: The US release date is May 30!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the story of Aventurine, a young dragon whose scales have not yet hardened. Until a dragon's scales have hardened, it is not safe in the outside world and the hardening of scales takes many years. So, Aventurine is pretty much stuck in a cave perpetually and she's bored. Her siblings have discovered their passions and are perfectly happy in the cave, but Aventurine wants to see the world and is frustrated by her inability to leave.

When she gets the chance Aventurine escapes from the cave. She doesn't plan to stay outside long or get herself into trouble, but she encounters a food mage who gives her some enchanted chocolate and poof! she is transformed from dragon to human. Not only has she been tricked by a wily mage, she is also unable to return home. Dragons fear humans and know them to be a danger, although an angry dragon can clearly harm a human, as well. When one of her family members flies nearby, Aventurine gets a good sense of what it's like facing an angry dragon when he aims at her with his flaming breath. He will never believe she's really a part of his family.

With no other choice left to her, Aventurine goes into the nearest village in search of her new passion, chocolate, clothed in an outfit that looks like her former dragon scales. She's helped by a young thief, but can Aventurine trust her new friend? When she decides that she wants to become an apprentice to a chocolatier, will she be able to overcome rejection? Will any of the chocolatiers ever accept her? And, when dragons begin to swoop over the village, can Aventurine stop the villagers from killing her family? How will she ever convince her family that she's a human, now?

Recommended - What a creative story. Aventurine is a strong, fearless heroine who becomes a fish out of water when she's turned human. But, after discovering her passion, she goes for it. She is going to become a chocolatier and she is going to find a way to save the village and her family. You know it when each of these things are coming, but it's still a delight to find out how she'll accomplish everything she needs and desires to do. Although there were some portions that I thought dragged a bit, I enjoyed the friends Aventurine made along the way, her courage and determination, and the ending. The one thing that I thought was not obvious: Would Aventurine remain a human or find a way to transform back into a dragon? Would she be a dragon chocolatier? I'm not going to give that away but I will tell you I found the ending satisfying.

©2017 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 11, 2017

Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep by Leslie Helakoski

In Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep, there's a storm. Two eggs are on the ground. Two moms take them back to their nests. But, the eggs have been switched. Hoot, who has ended up with a family of geese, is a baby owl who can't sleep during the nighttime and goes exploring. He finds some other owlets and realizes he's found his home. Honk is a gosling accidentally living with an owl family. He thinks the owl diet is revolting and can't sleep during the daylight hours. He goes exploring, just like Hoot, and discovers some fellow goslings. Honk has also found his home.

Using very simple words and light rhyme that is occasionally a tiny bit awkward until you become accustomed to its unique rhythms, Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep tells about a mixup that is undone by its own victims. A cute story that I can see having a long usage span. Because the wording is simple and rhythmic, Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep is a good option for very young children who aren't quite ready to sit still for long. But, eventually, they're going to want to know about the weird owl diet and why owls are up at night and geese during the daytime, so the book also provides a good opening for discussion about nocturnal and diurnal animals, as well as the diets of different birds.

Recommended - A fun book with vibrant illustrations, simple language, and plenty of room for discussion, for classroom or home. Or, you can just enjoy it without looking for an excuse to teach a lesson (I was always all about the learning opportunity).

Both of my children attended camp at our local zoo and this book reminded me of the time my youngest son dissected an owl pellet and had such a violent allergic reaction that he had to be removed from the room. He was grinning when I picked him up. Did I know that owls swallow creatures whole and then eventualy cough up their bones? No, I did not. Owl pellets, he told me, were very cool and a little gross. He was not really fazed by the allergic reaction. No biggie; he learned something fun. I love that.

©2017 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.

Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev

I've read Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev several times because my first impression was not a positive one. The youngest in a hippo family is unhappy because everyone is bigger than him: his parents, her brothers, the giraffe, crocodile and elephant that live nearby. Little Hippo is feeling small until he discovers a beetle that has ended up on its back and is lying there helplessly. The beetle is grateful and so is his family. When they thank Little Hippo they say, "Thank you, Big Hippo!" Suddenly, Little Hippo feels big and goes running around, shouting that he's big now. His mother says, "You are a Big Little Hippo now!"

Okay, so my immediate thoughts: Loved the illustrations but I wasn't sure there was any point to the story. But, sometimes my first impressions are not reliable when it comes to children's books; that's why I always read them at least twice. I also wondered what a child would think, so I took the book along with me when we met up with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the little one was sick. But, my daughter-in-law read Big Little Hippo to her and she sat still throughout the reading. That's a good sign, although nothing is definitive when you're reading to a kid with a fever who is kind of stumbly - and yet, she's an active child, even when sick, so I still took it as a positive.

After reading Big Little Hippo a couple more times, I slowly began to think about its uses. First, the book is one about the concepts of big and little (or large and small), which are important early lessons. So, it's useful for teaching the concept of size. Second, if you've got a child who is unusually small or large, you can use it to show that size is relative and fairly meaningless. Third, the entire hippo family is shown in the final panels, so you can introduce "medium" to the size order concept. And, finally, everyone loves a book with bright, cheerful illustrations and I think the illustrations in Big Little Hippo are marvelous.

Recommended but not a favorite - I was not going to recommend Big Little Hippo at all after the first reading, but I changed my mind. I do, however, recommend that you peer inside the book at a bookstore or online (if possible) if you're concerned. The story itself is a simplistic one but I think it has applications for teaching, in particular, even if I think the story itself is a bit flat. The illustrations are superb.

©2017 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 08, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and
  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank - both from HarperCollins for review
  • Ella Who? by Ashman and Sanchez and
  • Dance is for Everyone by Andrea Zuill - both from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Daywalt and Rex - purchased 

I feel kind of weird about that children's book purchase, but I heard it was funny and there's nothing I like more than an excuse to laugh. Not pictured is another book I bought, a YA called Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy, the actor best known for his 80s movies. I enjoyed his travel memoir a couple years ago, so I figured it would be fun to see how his YA turned out. As I recall, he was writing the YA at the time his first book was released.

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex - Yes, I thought it was funny. And, I also think my cats need to stay in the room when I read to them. 
  • Ella Who? by Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez 
  • Dance is for Everyone by Andrea Zuill
  • The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Last week's posts:

I don't normally post on the weekends because the spouse objects to weekend blogging but we had a busy morning and were both beat on Saturday afternoon, so I had a little down time in which to write a blog post on Saturday and then Huzzybuns opened up a second blogging opportunity by leaving town on Sunday. I was pleased to have time to knock out a couple reviews, since I've got such a backlog of books that need reviewing. Fortunately, a good portion of them are children's books, which I can quickly reread, and some are personal reads for which there's no hurry. It's just a matter of sitting down, now and then, and knocking a few out.

Currently reading:

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien - After writing that I was reading this book, last week, I picked up The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson and couldn't put it down. So, I just returned to No Man's Land, last night, and now I'm completely immersed at about 1/3 of the way in. 
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit - Huh, I thought this was a feminist read. Maybe it's because Solnit is known for Men Explain Things To Me? So far, it's all political, with only the occasional remark specifically about women. But, I'm really enjoying it. Hope in the Dark was written during the second George W. Bush administration but it is extremely applicable to what we're experiencing under the Trump administration for reasons I won't go into. Because it's one of the books Isabel spilled my drink on, a couple weeks ago (did I tell you about that?) I'm marking it up wildly with a pen instead of delicately labeling quotations with flags. Solnit's writing comes off as scholarly (maybe she is a scholar; I don't know because I skipped the cover info) but it's accessible, if a bit wordy, and I appreciate her "light at the end of the tunnel" encouragement. 

In other news:

I can't think of any other news. Same old, same old, around here. I'm really enjoying my reading, lately. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that Adam, the protagonist of No Man's Land, had already shown himself to be heroic when I was 18% of the way into the book. He's a terrific character. My only problem with the book, so far, is that the dates are not clear. It almost feels as if Adam has gone through 7 years of growing up in 18 months. So, I would have liked a little bit of clarity - and yet, I set it aside for a while, so maybe I simply blanked on the timing. At this point, I'm guessing it's about 1910. There was recently a scene in which Adam got a ride in a Rolls Royce and the author said his scant possessions were put in the copious trunk. That sounded off to me, somehow, so I looked up Rolls Royces made in 1910. First of all, it's set in Great Britain. A trunk is a boot. So, it's been Americanized for U.S. publication, if the author is British. Second, there doesn't appear to be any such thing as trunk space, unless there's an exterior vessel for carrying possessions, and none of what I'm seeing is "copious". But, whatever. It's a good book. I love the depth of characterization and a lot has happened in roughly 150 pages. This book is definitely going to stick with me, I'm sure of that.

OK, I've babbled enough, now. Happy Monday!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

It was 1940 and, since the Nazis did not invade, many evacuees had returned to the cities, where they learned to pick their way with caution through pea-souper fogs along the blacked-out streets. [...] The first to be called up for military service were fit and able men of twenty and twenty-one, the single before the married. Many rushed to the recruiting office, while more timorous young men hurried to the Marriage Bureau in hopes of putting off the evil hour.

~ from Advance Reader Copy of The Marriage Bureau, p. 124 (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London is a nonfiction book, written with light-hearted verve, about two women who decided to start a matchmaking service in London in 1939. The idea was proposed by one of the women's uncles, Uncle George. Audrey (who later changed her name to Mary) decided it was a terrific idea because there were so many women like her, already declared "on the shelf" in her 20s after failed engagements. She convinced her friend Heather to join her.

The Marriage Bureau describes both the business method and the "mating", beginning mostly with stories of the surprising crowd of clients, their interviews, the impact of war on the desire to find a spouse, and how they were matched. Because the business was set up in London just before war broke out and continued in London (apart from one brief move to the countryside), you get a good sense of the wartime atmosphere, including tragedy -- enough so that when V-E Day arrived and there was celebrating in the street, I got a little teary. The story ends with the 10-year celebration of the business in 1949.

Highly recommended - I particularly recommend The Marriage Bureau to lovers of romance. You will find some satisfaction in reading about the pairing of couples if you're a romantic at heart, even though their stories are told with little depth as the author describes the requirements each desired in a spouse, how a match was chosen, maybe a date or two, then the happy note or visit expressing thanks when a couple became engaged. I chose the book because of the time period and I was not disappointed. Although war itself is only the setting, you definitely get a sense of wartime London, how the bombings and blackouts and rationing effected the English. Occasionally, tragedies and business difficulties are described but most of the focus is on the happy stories, so those who normally can't handle WWII reads should be fine with it.

The Marriage Bureau includes a "P.S." section with additional information, including a meet the author page and lengthy list of requirements given by various clients and some brief comments made about the clients by those interviewing them, both divided by male and female. There are also photographs but the ARC doesn't include them so I'm considering eventually chasing down a finished copy. I really did love this book.

Side note: Some of the clients' stories and the additional material are worth the price of the book for writers. There are a lot of interesting ways you could use that material as inspiration for fresh storytelling, particularly character development.

©2017 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, May 06, 2017

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose and a Fiona Friday pic on the Wrong Day

One of the first things that came to mind when I closed Mister Monkey was, "I need to read more by Francine Prose," not because I fell completely in love with the book (although it's sharply written and clearly the work of a pro), so much as the fact that reading Mister Monkey made me intensely curious about what else Prose may have written. I know I've seen the covers of some of her other books and found them intriguing but they looked so serious, by comparison. And, Mister Monkey is definitely light. One of the cover blurbs calls it "darkly humorous and brilliantly observant", an apt description.

The title of the book is also the title of the fictional children's musical around which the plot revolves. In Mister Monkey, the musical, a chimpanzee is being defended after he's accused of stealing. The lawyer, dressed in a rainbow-colored wig and a purple suit with a too-short skirt, is the first character whose story is examined. Margot, the actress who plays the chimp's lawyer, had a promising start but her career has stalled and she is beyond her prime. On the day in which the novel opens, things change. She receives an anonymous letter from an admirer and Adam, the boy who plays the chimp, does something so shocking that it changes the way the musical is presented.

Margot is just the first protagonist, though. As the book progresses, it segues from featuring one character to another, then another, then another. So, you see what happens between Adam and Margot from at least four different viewpoints. I wasn't sure exactly what the author was trying to accomplish when she began switching the POVs, but eventually I realized that the book was being laid out like a chain, with each new protagonist a link in the chain. In the end, Margot's story is nicely wrapped up. Unfortunately, I was expecting every temporary-protagonist to get a similar conclusion and it really didn't feel like I got that, although you could say that the end of the musical is an ending for everyone.

Recommended - While I wasn't entirely satisfied with the conclusion because I expected everything to be wrapped up with a nice bow, I'm pretty sure the author's intent was to circle back to Margot and conclude her story; and, in that she succeeded. Plus, the book is definitely entertaining and I want to read more by Prose, now that I've gotten a glimpse of her writing, so Mister Monkey is a thumbs-up.

Side note: I love that cover. When I received the book, my impression (based on the cover) was that it would be a light-hearted story. Also, I just like the way it looks, nice and bold. The cover of Mister Monkey definitely fits the tone of the book, so I think it's a success, all-around.

And, now a Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day photo, which is entirely due to the fact that I mistook Friday for Thursday. I figured it out when I woke up and realized my husband was either late for work or it was Saturday.

It looks like Izzy was taking a selfie and she might have if my finger hadn't already been on the shutter release.

©2017 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 03, 2017

April Reads in Review, 2017

April reads:

27. Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway - A boy who is small for his age discovers that he is a Momotaro (a boy who came from a peach and fights evil) after his father's disappearance. And, the world is depending on him to save it from the horrifying monsters that want to take over. I wasn't the right reader for this book but I'm sure my kids would have loved this adventurous book if they'd read it during their youths.

28. Elly and the Smelly Sneaker by Leslie Gorin and Lesley Vamos - A book that takes the Cinderella story and turns it upside-down. Elly's family coddles her but what she wants most is to play baseball. When her fairy godfather grants her wish, she's thrilled. But, Elly only has till noon before she returns to her former outfit, leaving behind a smelly sneaker as the only clue to the identity of the team's baseball star. My favorite of the children's books I read in April.

29. The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins - Clearly, Billy Collins is a well-traveled man because a good portion of these poems were written on his travels. Maybe he travels specifically to find new material? Hard to say. As usual, I found his poetry charming and relatable, but the fact that so much of it was written in and about various places around the globe made it seem a bit more uppity than expected.

30. Tequila Mockingbird by Leo Cullum - A book of animal cartoons from the New Yorker. I bought this book at a local college book sale and read most of it while waiting for a seat in a restaurant with Kiddo reading along over my shoulder. It helped pass the time very nicely.

31. Sammy's Broken Leg and the Amazing Cast that Fixed It by Judith Wolf Mandell - A children's book that describes the experience of breaking a leg, from the pain of being injured through the setting of a cast and the long, boring days without being able to move around much. A great book for children who are going through medical frustration of any kind, I would think. I'll donate this one to my doctor's office after I've reviewed it.

32. The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jon Morris - Just like it sounds, a book about comic book supervillains that spans about 7 decades. "Regrettable" because most were not around for long and had either dubious skills or strange reasons for becoming villainous. The author has a sly sense of humor that makes the book a joy to read. Also, it's heavily illustrated, often with readable panels from the original comic books that give you a nice glimpse into the dialogue between villains and heroes.

33. The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day - A handwriting expert is tasked with helping the local sheriff find a missing child. But when her own son disappears, she not only has two completely separate cases to unravel but also must confront the horrors of her past and accept the possibility of a much different future than she anticipated. I liked this story, although occasionally it did seem odd that the heroine couldn't put together some pretty obvious clues.

34. Little Known Tales of Oklahoma by Alton Pryor - Probably the worst book I've read in years. I learned a few things, but this self-published book of facts read like the author had written his research on recipe cards and then typed directly from them without even worrying about order. Or spelling. It was probably particularly easy for me to spot errors since I'm an Oklahoman but the book was in desperate need of an editor.

35. The Plague by Albert Camus - My classic choice of the month, a fictional account of an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in French Algeria, which is told from the POV of a doctor and some other men trapped within the city walls during the crisis. Focused on the emotional impact and the logistics of dealing with a plague, rather than the gory details, The Plague is a little slow but the writing is stellar.

36. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem - A unique, rather hodge-podge memoir in which Steinem talks about how her childhood on the road naturally fed into her travels as a journalist and speaker who campaigned for women's rights. Lots of fascinating history, some fun tales (the stories told to her by taxi drivers were very entertaining) and some terrific insight on culture made My Life on the Road a favorite of the month and the best of my feminist reads, so far. I laughed, I cried. Wonderful book.

37. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney - When Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast find out the syrup container is almost empty, they race through broccoli forests and across mashed potato mountains to get to the last drops. But, will either of them make it in time? A delightful romp through an imaginative refrigerator interior.

38. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: The Case of the Stinky Stench by J. Funk and B. Kearney - Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are back, this time tasked with helping Inspector Croissant discover the source of a nasty smell in the fridge. Even more fun than the first book, with a few clever puns that made me laugh out loud.

39. How to Train Your Lion by Tammi Sauer and Troy Cummings - When a little boy orders a kitten but receives a lion instead, the lion comes with a set of instructions. "Try very hard not to look like a zebra," for example. By the 14th step, the little boy has discovered his lion is "the purrrr-fect pet".

40. Mister Monkey by Francine Prose - When things start to go awry in a children's musical called Mister Monkey, what will happen? A unique story that's written like links in a chain as it follows one character, then switches to another character who shared the first protagonist's scenes, and so forth. I hoped the chain would come full circle and the ending wrap up all their stories neatly and that's not quite what happened, although the ending was upbeat.

Quite a pile there, but they're mostly either light reads or children's books (even lighter). The few exceptions were, of course, my feminist and classic choices, the book of supervillains, and the two novels. I'm hoping for a bit more depth in May, but I'm happy that the influx of children's books provided an enjoyable mental break and reassured me that my reading is going just fine, since this year has been kind of a rocky one.

©2017 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 01, 2017

Monday Malarkey

I'm running a little late, today, because my mouse batteries decided to die and there were no AAA batteries lying about. I kept trying to will them to appear, but it didn't work. I had to drive to the store. Bummer.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson and
  • The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson - both from HarperCollins for review (I can't resist anything with the word "London" in the title or a London setting and both of these are London books)
  • 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by A. and M. Siegel, X. Bouma, M. Rockefeller, and B. Sun - a middle grade graphic novel from Random House Children's Books for review
  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney,
  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: The Case of the Stinky Stench by Funk and Kearney, and
  • Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer and Troy Cummings - from Sterling Children's Books for review

Exciting arrivals! If you've been around for a few years, you may recall that I used to read children's books to my cats. The newer kitties (who aren't so new, anymore) are not necessarily the best listeners, so I sometimes just sit on the couch and read aloud to nobody. My husband has walked in on me reading aloud to myself and he thinks it's hilarious. Well, whatever works. I love children's books and it's always best to read them aloud because that is, after all, how you read them to children. I'll keep working on my cat audience, though. Sooner or later, they're bound to give in and pay attention.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem 
  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Funk and Kearney
  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: The Case of the Stinky Stench by Funk and Kearney
  • Caring for Your Lion by Sauer and Cummings
  • Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

You could be forgiven for assuming Mister Monkey is a children's book title, especially coming on the heels of a bunch of books about royal grain products conquering mountains of potatoes and dastardly smells in the fridge and a book about training a lion, but it is not. I just thought I should make that distinction.

Last week's posts:

That's right; I couldn't even manage to post Fiona Friday on the right day, much less write a book review or two. I hope this week will be more productive, blog-wise, because there comes a point that the backlog gets a little overwhelming and I'm on the verge of arriving at that point.

Currently reading:

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien 

This is my second attempt at No Man's Land. The first time I opened it, I kept rereading paragraphs. It wasn't the book; it was me. Too tired? Not the right book for the moment? Who knows. No Man's Land is very accessible. But, it really jumped out at me, when I picked it up again and had no problem at all with it. I remember thinking that first page was practically gibberish, the first time. But, of course, it wasn't. It was fine. I know that happens to other readers but it still strikes me as strange that two readings could have such dramatically different results. I'm not far into the book (maybe 40 pages?) but I like the writing. It has a richness that I know I'm going to enjoy digging into.

I haven't got any other books going, so I'll sift through my piles, tonight, and see what nonfiction title appeals to me.

In other news:

We had interesting weather, this weekend. It was almost cold on Thursday night, pleasantly cool on Friday, and then Saturday it grew hot, then muggy, then fiercely windy. Sunday, storms blew in from the west, tornado sirens went off, and we lost power for 3 or 4 hours. The tornadic weather began early enough that I wasn't fully awake. I got dressed because you really don't want to be in your pajamas when the heroic firefighters dig you from the rubble -- and shoes are a necessity -- threw 4 pillows on the rug in the laundry room (our "safe room") and curled up on the floor. I was asleep when Husband told me the storms had passed and it was safe to come out. As it turned out, those sirens were no joke. A "moderate" strength tornado (EF-1) touched down a couple miles west of us. Our neighborhood was a bit of a mess and one of our neighbors got a very big tree through the roof of their house -- no injuries, thank goodness -- but we missed the worst of the storms. My biggest worry is always that I can never talk the cats into coming into the safe room. This time, they wandered in and out; the sirens went off not once but several times. Had I lunged for a cat, though, she would have gone right back out the door and left me behind in a cloud of fur. So, I didn't try.

How was your weekend?

©2017 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.