Friday, July 28, 2017

Brave Deeds by David Abrams

Everything was going fine. Smooth as a baby's shaved ass. Park at the wheel, Arrow riding shotgun, the rest of us crammed in the back: O sitting on Fish's lap, Cheever digging into his second bag of Doritos for the day, Drew sandwiched somewhere in the middle. Early morning locals in fluttering robes swished past the Humvee's small windows. Burnt shells of cars lined the curb, lingering memories of bombs. Billboards with soccer players saying things we couldn't understand, but offering us a Coke and a smile. Everything good and fine and then bang! It's like the Humvee decided it had had enough. Sorry, guys, I'm calling it quits. You're on your own from here. 

~from p. 3 of ARC, Brave Deeds: Some changes may have been made to the final print version

Man . . . this just keeps happening. Three fabulous books in a row and every single time I'm frozen, thinking, "I'm not worthy to write about this." Let me just say the usual . . . I'll do my best.

Brave Deeds is set during the Iraq War and tells the story of six men whose Sergeant has been killed in an explosion. When they find out his memorial service is being held at a different Forward Operating Base than the one where they're stationed and that they're not allowed to attend, they steal a Humvee and set off for FOB Saro in defiance of their orders. Barely into their journey, the Humvee breaks down. They're in Baghdad, a dangerous place for American soldiers, so they quickly exit the vehicle. And, then -- too late -- they realize they've left behind both the radio and their maps. Brave Deeds is the story of their journey across Baghdad to honor the fallen hero they've come to admire and respect.

Much like the most recent addition to my all-time favorite war books list, A Walk in the Sun by Harry Brown, Brave Deeds is a compact gem that takes place in a short span of time (less than a day) during which you slowly become acquainted with a band of protagonists who are taking a long, uncertain walk, through both their current actions and flashbacks. In spite of the short time span that's covered, a lot happens. The 6 men are in a dangerous city, surrounded by potential hazards that include the heat, hunger, uncertainty about the correct direction in which to head, pain, fatigue, and frequent errors in judgment. Without a map to guide them or a radio to call for help, will they remember their training and find both their destination and the cunning to survive? If they make it to FOB Saro, will they arrive in time to attend the memorial service?

Highly recommended but not for the faint of heart - Brave Deeds is gritty and raw with the ring of truth, that "you were there," sensation that makes a story hit you right in the gut. I don't mind the violence and gore, the crude language (it's worth mentioning that Brave Deeds contains the two words I currently consider the most vile modern obscenities), the talk about sex and bodily functions, all because they're authentic. When people are in the worst possible situation, their thoughts go to the basics -- hunger, thirst, desire, love, hate, and the singular goal to reach their objective. Most importantly, though, the ending quite simply took my breath away. A deeply meaningful book about modern-day heroes, for better or worse, doing what they feel is right in order to show respect to one of their own. Brave Deeds is a 5-star, tightly-written, deeply meaningful story that will stick with me for a long time.


Oops! I just accidentally posted and then reverted to draft form because I completely forgot to mention that this will be my last post till sometime in September. As always, I plan to shut down Facebook and reduce my internet time to next to nothing, but I'll occasionally check my email. I can't say whether or not I'll manage to step away from Twitter, since I've recently become a Twitter addict. It's likely I'll mention what I'm reading, there. At any rate, I'll be back to blogging in roughly 5-6 weeks.

You've probably already seen this photo if you follow me elsewhere, but Izzy very helpfully posed with Brave Deeds while I was reading it and I'm crazy about this photo so I figure it's worth adding for posterity. Happy summer, everyone!

©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, July 24, 2017

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

I'm going to skip today's Monday Malarkey post because I need to finish up my last two review posts and get started on my break. Monday Malarkey will return in September.

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein is described on the cover as "hard science fiction". I didn't read that description till I was well into the book because I'll often skip reading synopses on book covers or flaps when I'm about to read a book, for fear of spoilers (yes, I have had books ruined by the cover description). So, by the point I read that, I'd already come to that conclusion on my own and was mentally searching for a comparison. The best I can come up with is The Martian. If you had no trouble reading between the lines (or just skimming) during the more technical portions of The Martian, you'll probably be just fine with The Punch Escrow. On to the storyline.

Joel Byram was on his way to Costa Rica in the year 2147. His wife Sylvia had already teleported to their vacation destination and he was following along when something went horribly wrong. Now, there are two Joel Byrams. One is in New York and the other in Costa Rica. The Joel in New York knows that his wife's employer, the owner and developer of teleportation devices all over the world, is trying to kill him because he has learned important information about teleportation that could ruin the business. The second Joel is slowly discovering the truth. When Joel's wife Sylvia is kidnapped, both Joels are determined to find and save her. But, will one Joel have to die to save Sylvia and the other Joel?

That's a serious simplification. A lot happens in The Punch Escrow - it's a wild ride - but the vast majority of the details are, I think, spoilers. So, I'll stick to generalities. The book takes place in the near future but is described in past tense, left as a message for people in Joel's future. At the beginning of the book, you meet the Joel in New York. A woman who works with Sylvia has helped Joel escape but now he's trapped by several people who claim to be travel agents. Clearly, they're not telling the truth, but is Joel in danger or are they trying to help him? What exactly happened that resulted in the creation of a second Joel? And, what has Sylvia been hiding from him?

Two separate groups object to the practice of teleportation in this future world. One is the members of the Levant (the region) and the other is a group called the Gehinnomites. I have to admit that I got those two muddled in my mind, a bit, but basically one objects on religious principles but I can't recall if the other does - they have similar objections. The religious objection is that humans are being literally taken apart at an astronomically small level in order to send them to their destination and then reassembled. Surely, no God meant for his creation to be disassembled and reassembled. The truth of teleportation, it turns out, is worse than that. But, you'll have to read the book to find out. It's really a fascinating concept but I can't bear the thought of ruining it for anyone.

Highly recommended, especially to science fiction lovers - The scientific descriptions are believable if, at times, hard to follow for the non-scientific mind. As in The Martian, The Punch Escrow is an adventurous book with a sense of humor that forces you to either really think or read between the lines. Sometimes, I confess, I got totally lost, but it usually didn't take long till I figured out what was going on. And, I had so much fun that I didn't mind the fact that I occasionally couldn't follow the science perfectly. There are a lot of Star-Trekkish aspects to this future world that are super fun, like a device much like the replicator in Star Trek, people-moving drones of various sizes, implanted apps, and self-driving cars with personalities. Joel's job is interesting, as well. He's a "salter", paid to confuse apps, and can do his job while walking around the city, since the implanted apps basically mean everyone is wired into a globalized computer system.

Much like The Martian, I loved the storyline - the idea of how teleportation works in this future world and its implications, the reluctant hero(es) vs. the villainous corporation, the fast-paced rush to the final life or death struggle, and the existential question that underscores it all. I also loved the fact that there are plenty of light, humorous moments. An entertaining read with a creative but plausible future world.

©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, July 21, 2017

Fiona Friday

So pretty with the azaleas blooming behind her.

©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, July 19, 2017

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Before I get into a description of How to Stop Time, I need to warn the Americans that it has not yet been released in the U.S. and it looks like you've got a good, long wait. But, the cover above is so much better than the American cover (if Amazon's image is correct) that you might want to do what I did if you appreciate the cover above. I ordered from Book Depository because I absolutely could not wait for the American release. Had I known about the ugly American cover, that would have just solidified my decision. Why are British covers always so much better looking?

Tom Hazard was born in France in the year 1581 and he's still alive, thanks to a condition known as "anageria", which hits at puberty. Those who have anageria age slowly. So, while Tom has been around for over 450 years - long enough to have hung out with Shakespeare - he appears to be closer to his late thirties. Tom discovered early on that he had to avoid settling down for any length of time and try not to develop any meaningful relationships because his slow aging has always been a danger to him and those around him. He's often depressed and anxious, but he made a promise to stay alive and he has kept his promise.

At the end of the 19th century, a man named Hendrich changed his life. Hendrich is several centuries older than Tom and has created an organization for the protection of their kind: "albatrosses", he calls them. "Mayflies" are people who age normally and they can be dangerous to albatrosses. In the early days, it was superstition and fear that caused the danger. In modern life, it's concern that they'll be kidnapped and become victims of experimentation. Since Tom joined Hendrich's society, he has been obligated to move every 8 years, occasionally bringing new people into the society and killing those who know too much. 

Now, Tom has decided to return to London, where he spent his younger years. He finds a job teaching history and naturally he's able to bring history to life in a unique way. But, no matter how hard he tries, Tom can't avoid the pull of the gentle French teacher who has extended the hand of friendship and he must wrestle with the life-long question that he's had to suppress: Is life even worth living without love? 

First things first: I love this book so much that if I could, I'd reread it right now. I want to go back to the beginning and travel through time with Tom, knowing what's going to happen to him in the end.

As you follow Tom, you leap back and forth in time, slowly learning about the experiences that shaped Tom. I think what amazed me the most was the way the author portrayed Tom's life so naturally - even the occasional friendship or run-in with a famous historical character. I've read many books in which historical characters played a role and most of them didn't quite work in some way or other. They just felt off. None of Matt Haig's portrayals gave me that sensation. And, Tom . . . you can't help but root for him. He's so very, very human. Nobody writes about what it means to be human, to live with anxiety and depression and grief and love and everything else that makes us what we are, quite like Matt Haig.

My absolute favorite sentence is a very short one: Grief tilts you. 

How to Stop Time is a beautiful story. The beginning is a bit on the melancholy side. Tom was recruited by Hendrich in 1891 and he's tired of moving every 8 years, tired of being lonely, sometimes to the point of wishing that he'd never agreed to keep on living (a promise he made early in his life). He's experienced heartbreak and love, discovered that things really don't change all that much because people forget the lessons of the past, and he longs to find the missing daughter who inherited his condition. But, the ending is uplifting in just the way I hoped it would be.

Highly recommended - How to Stop Time is a new favorite that has earned a place of honor on the good shelves. An absolutely perfect gem of a book with a protagonist whose emotions will tug at your heart, prose that will give you much to ponder, and absolutely flawless pacing.

Side note: The movie rights to How to Stop Time were sold months before the release date and Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Tom Hazard. It's going to be every bit as painful waiting for the movie as it was waiting for the book.

©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, July 17, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Getting a late start, here, because I fell asleep during the news and took a surprisingly long evening nap.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga and
  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso - both purchased. It's true that Amazon snagged me during Prime Week (but I only bought these two books, nothing else)
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones - for review from Putnam (Penguin Random House) 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang

I'm also on the verge of finishing How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, but even with a mere 20 pages to go, I can't count it as finished till I'm done because I'm weird that way. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  • The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

Both of the books I'm reading are utterly captivating but I am focusing on How to Stop Time (about a man who ages slowly and has been alive 450 years) and I'll return to The Punch Escrow (futuristic sci-fi), after I finish -- tonight, that is. How to Stop Time got priority because it's one of my most anticipated books of the year and it is every bit as magical as I hoped it would be. But, The Punch Escrow is loads of fun, too, so I'm excited that I'll be getting back to it, tonight. I'll review both before I leave for my summer break. If I can fit everything in (I also want to read and review Brave Deeds by David Abrams before I go), I plan to shut down by Friday. If not, I'll extend my stay a bit till I'm done.

In other news:

It's getting oppressively hot and humid, here, the time of year that you begin to feel trapped indoors because it's dangerous outside (much like being trapped indoors by the snow to avoid frostbite, for those of you in colder climates). I'm looking forward to autumn. Hope those of you in reasonable climates are enjoying your weather. I would very much like to be in Alaska, right about now. :)

©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, July 14, 2017

Fiona Friday - Izzy Bunny

Look at those big ears! I love those ears.

©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, July 12, 2017

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang

Joe Bell is close to one of his final stops on the Underground Railroad when he's discovered by two men in search of escaped slaves for the reward money. After Joe is badly hurt in a confrontation and injures one of his pursuers and a beloved dog, he makes his way to Mary's house.

Mary Willis is college-educated and has very liberal opinions for a young woman. She's been hiding escaped slaves in the family barn for some time when Joe shows up, injured and feverish. Because of his confrontation with the "copperheads" and the injuries they sustained, there are two very angry men who want to find Joe, not to mention his owner, Yates Bell. It will take special courage and subterfuge to nurse Joe back to health and help him escape to Canada.

Mary's brother, Leander, has never learned to accept responsibility. Expected to work on the family farm, instead he spends much of his time drinking and hanging out with friends at the shack he built. When he's sent to town to manage his father's lumber business, he is not particularly successful. Then he meets Isabel. His problems are compounded after she introduces him to opium and convinces him that she can help him make a fortune.

When war breaks out, the young men of Town Line all sign up for the army, led by Leander. Back home, Confederates are helped to escape to Canada, where they're able to regroup and return to war; and, Town Line becomes the only town in the Union to secede.

What will happen to Joe and Mary? Will Joe's lengthy stay get them both caught? When Leander joins the army, will he finally become disciplined? What will become of the many slaves who are escaping to the North when the people of Buffalo, New York begin to clash with them over concern that the influx of strangers will mean the loss of their jobs? Will the Confederates of Town Line be able to do serious damage to the Union?

My thoughts . . . 

That was quite a big synopsis because there are quite a few threads in The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. I skipped at least a couple of the subplots. At the beginning of the book, the story is almost exclusively about Mary, her part in the smuggling of slaves to Canada, and Joe. I'd say at least 1/3 of the book is primarily about them, although there is a bit of set-up regarding Joe's owner, Yates, and Harry, the man whose dog is killed.

But, as The Hidden Light of Northern Fires progresses, the number of different threads grows. Some, I didn't fully understand. Why, for example, does Isabel choose to have Leander join her posh but drug-addled life? What is her purpose? Did she plan to just use and discard him?

There were also some characters who disappeared early on and reappeared toward the end of the book. One writes letters home but is otherwise not spoken of till his return.

At the beginning, I could barely stand to put down The Hidden Light of Northern Fires. I liked Mary, her father Nathan, Joe, and Charles (a family friend). I cared about what would happen to them. Leander was simply a wastrel - the Branwell Brontë of the Willis family. Henry is a dubious character. I never knew quite whether to love or hate him. And, there are a number of simply despicable people - a parson who doesn't mind helping the Confederate escapees who go through and finds ways to get free labor and easy money, a Marshall without a conscience, a Confederate spy who is not past cheating the people he lures into "business".

Eventually, the quantity of violent characters and the body count started to wear on me. The book centers on some historical events, like the secession of the town, the riot between Irish dock workers and freed slaves, and the secret connections that helped both Confederates and escaped slaves make their way to Canada. Those were interesting but the violence tired me and by the last third of the book, I began to just want to get the reading over with.

Recommended? Not recommended? I just don't know. I loved both the beginning and ending. I liked the setting and the fact that I learned something new (that there was a single city in the North that seceded from the Union). I liked the fact that two of the characters who appeared unredeemable actually turned out okay in the end. And, I liked the overall storyline until that last 1/3 or so. But, I found the last 75-100 pages utterly exhausting because of the violence and the sheer quantity of nasty characters. I rated the book 3.5/5 and have considered knocking it down to 3 stars, which would be an average read. But, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires was so promising in the beginning, grabbed me so hard, and ended well enough that I'm not sure I can talk myself into penalizing it too much for the parts I disliked.

©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, July 11, 2017

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

While I was taking a shower and trying not to get water all over the giant taped-up crack, I couldn't get out of my head the fact that my father had been in love with a tomato-eating blond when he was a thieving teenage bowler who had harbored secret dreams. Would I ever be able to look at a tomato the same way again? Or a bowling ball? Or even listen to B. Springsteen for that matter?

~ p. 169

Just Fly Away is a Young Adult novel about a 15-year-old whose life is turned upside-down when she discovers her father has a child he's never mentioned. The fact that her half-brother is only 8 years old means her parents were married at the time of little Thomas's conception. Upset by her father's betrayal, Lucy begins to spend more time at a friend's house, where she falls for her friend's brother, Simon, and eventually seeks out little Thomas for reasons even she can't explain. But, knowing where he is and what he looks like is no help. When Lucy loses her temper and is rude even to Simon, who has been endlessly patient with her, she decides on the spur of the moment to run away.

It takes about 115 pages to get to the part where Lucy runs away and I think that is the book's biggest downfall because once she leaves New Jersey, Just Fly Away starts to really become interesting. Lucy is unsure where to go, at first, but then she remembers her paternal grandfather in Maine. She's only met him once but surely he'll be happy to see her.

At her destination, Lucy gets a fresh perspective on her family, the truth about her father's past, the way she's treated her boyfriend, and how to fit a new family member into her world. Meanwhile, she's enjoying the rugged Maine coast and getting to know her grandfather. But, then tragedy strikes and the lessons she's learned become even more crucial.

I bought Just Fly Away primarily because I so thoroughly enjoyed Andrew McCarthy's travel book, The Longest Way Home, when it came out in 2012. His travel writing is excellent and I presumed he would find a way to incorporate travel into his fiction. The first 115 pages were slow and full of teenage angst -- to the point that I had to sit back and think about how I would have felt if I found out my father had cheated and had a third child tucked away somewhere, just to keep myself going. It didn't take a lot of pondering to realize that I definitely would have been devastated and thrown into the same sort of emotional chaos Lucy experiences -- especially during the tender early teen years. That helped me stick out the slower parts in anticipation of the time when Lucy ran away.

I did think there were occasions when it was clear that the author was a male writing from the perspective of a female. It's hard to imagine any female never even mildly obsessing about her clothing, even when she's been wearing it for two days. If I were her, the first thing I'd do at Grandpa's? Look for the detergent and ask for money for a second outfit so she could get out of that stinky underwear. But, I liked the book enough, in the end, to give it 4 stars out of 5.

Recommended - The writing is a little simplistic; in trying to capture the teenage voice, at first I thought the author may have gone overboard. But, once I became accustomed to it, I thought the style worked. The second problem was that it took a long time before the story moved from "Confused teenage girl drifting away from her family and close to a boy" to "What will happen when she runs away?" When Lucy leaves town, that's when Just Fly Away becomes interesting, the pace picks up, an entertaining character is added, and the story veers into territory that the author clearly understands: how travel can clear one's mind and help a person come to resolution. While the first 1/3 is slow, it's definitely worth sticking out the slower beginning for the latter 2/3 of the book.

©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, July 10, 2017

Monday Malarkey

I decided I was sick of the usual places I pose books, so today I went for a change of scenery and discovered I need to do a deep clean pretty much everywhere in my house. At least this chair looked nice and tidy.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein - from Inkshares for review
  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - purchased
  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann - purchased
  • The Underground River by Martha Conway - from Touchstone for review

I'm ridiculously excited to finally have a copy of How to Stop Time. It feels like I've been waiting for it forever. There are just some authors who make you feel that way; waiting for the next release is eternity.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston
  • Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy
  • More Was Lost by Eleanor Perényi

Posts since last Malarkey:

Yay, a good reviewing week! The "mini reviews" turned out longer than intended but that's fine. Whatever works, right? 

Currently reading:

  • The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang 

I'm just reading the one book, right now, although I started another and I'm not sure if it's going to stick. Even if it does, it'll have to wait. The Hidden Light of Northern Fires sucked me in hard. I love that! 

In other news:

I wanted to watch Independence Day on the 4th of July but it turns out Kiddo pilfered it. So, we went through our old DVD collection. I was determined to find something equally adventurous and settled on the original Hornblower series. We don't tend to binge watch but we'll be watching an episode, now and then, for a while. Such a fun series!

©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, July 08, 2017

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

London, 1532: A boy with no conscience and no family has been doing anything he can to survive when he sees another boy leave a ship in the harbor. He takes the boy's place and is one of the remaining crew who resort to cannibalism when the ship is badly damaged. Then, he dies. But, he's not done, yet.

Present-day Chicago: FBI agent Will Brody searches for a killer who has already taken 17 lives. He also falls in love. Then, tragedy strikes. When Brody awakens in a world where his gun doesn't work and people are trying to kill him, he's confused. Then, he stops one of the killers and is faced with an entire band of people brandishing weapons. What is going on?

The title is apt: Afterlife is the story of what happens to Will Brody, and later Claire McCoy (his boss and lover), when they're killed and move on to an afterlife that exists in a sort of parallel dimension to what we know as life, one of many levels that overlay the living world. In this dimension, there is no electricity or other power source. Fire doesn't burn, phones don't function. But, the dead can obtain power from each other by killing. When Claire and the serial killer both die and enter this same afterlife, she is concerned and wants to take him out. But, there's a community of souls who have banded together to keep each other safe from the "Eaters", those who are hooked on the power gained from taking other lives. When it becomes clear that Claire's concerns were justified and the serial killer has become even more dangerous, can Claire, Brody, and the others find a way to stop him?

Afterlife is billed as "sci-fi" but it's hard to pin down. I have a little trouble with the sci-fi label. If Afterlife is sci-fi, so is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which I tend to think of as general fiction, a "What-if?" with historical backdrop, while Afterlife is similar in its creation of a world in which various lives are layered like a palimpsest but with police procedural and fantasy or paranormal aspects. What if there are different levels of afterlife for different types of death? What if there are still ways in which people can affect each other in this great beyond? And, what if doing so creates a damaging power structure? What if even the afterlife isn't the end?

Whew, lots to digest. But, the result is kind of a freaky fantasy world much like that of Joe Hill's N0S4A2, where bad souls are endowed with a dangerous power and the good must find a clever way to battle the bad and stop it from winning. If the bad wins, it could lead to an endless harvesting of souls as they arrive. The boy from London plays an interesting role that emerges toward the end of the novel but you'll just have to read it to find out where he comes in.

Recommended - A unique, surprising story that poses a fantasy of what might lie beyond our world and examines the idea that even those who appear to be horrible people might actually be good inside. The author then takes that concept and turns it into a wild ride with some gory fight scenes and a final battle between good and evil (plus a bit of travel between those post-life layers). All of this with a love story at its heart. Afterlife is a sometimes-violent rollercoaster and, in the end, satisfying. I loved the fact that you absolutely cannot predict what will happen from one moment to the next.

©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, July 07, 2017

Fiona Friday

This photo was taken on the 4th of July, so if you consider the stars in her eyes and the stripes on her back, she was looking like a very patriotic American girl.

©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, July 05, 2017

Mini reviews - Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison & Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

More minis! But, first:

I'm going to skip reviewing Bellwether by Connie Willis, since I reviewed it in 2010. I suggested it for discussion when my book group was looking for something light that fit within a genre we don't normally talk about (we were considering sci-fi or mystery). I recommended it primarily because it's not out there, like some sci-fi. A few of our members were simply not interested in anything that took place in Outer Space. It is, rather, a book about scientists who are so obsessed with their work that they don't realize they're falling in love. Here's my original review:

Bellwether by Connie Willis 

Unfortunately, I missed the discussion because of rain. Bummer. So, I can't tell you what anyone thought, beyond the fact that our group leader told me everyone enjoyed it. I did notice the interplay of chaos theory and fads in a way I don't think stood out quite as distinctly during the first reading, but it's been 7 years since I read it so who knows what I was thinking back then. I enjoyed it every bit as much, the second time around.

Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison was one of those spontaneous, unplanned purchases that are always getting me into trouble. I don't even remember what I was looking up when I happened across this unique memoir, but it sounded like loads of fun and it absolutely is. I'm so glad I bought it.

Author Peter Allison is an Australian who ended up working in South Africa and then Botswana as a safari guide. Whatever You Do, Don't Run is a collection of his stories that focuses on things people have done that they absolutely should not have while on safari. And, the author is humble enough to include plenty of his own mistakes.

The best way I think I can possibly describe this book without telling you any of the stories is to share the fact that the entire time I was reading it, I was repeating my favorites to my husband. And, he loved hearing them. They're that entertaining. I will tell you part of one (in my own words), just to give you an idea of the contents:

During a safari with a particularly annoying amateur photographer, the author got out of his jeep to track the lions from one of the local prides. He found an adult lion's tracks and followed them with one hand, then cub tracks, which he followed with his other. And, then he realized his mistake. He was pointing in opposite directions and standing in the middle. The last thing you want to do is get between a predatory mother and her young. He said, "No, no, no, no, no!" and just then, the screams behind him clued him in to the mother stalking him. It was a close call that involved a lot of waving and yelling on Allison's part and some uncertain movements on the part of the mother lion. When Peter Allison was finally safe, the annoying photographer said, "Could you do that again? I missed it."

Highly recommended - Wonderful storytelling, both amusing and sometimes terrifying enough that I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit before I could talk myself into finding out what happened. It might make you think twice about whether or not you ever want to go on a safari in a remote location.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston is my feminist read for the month. Hermione Winters is excited about her final year of cheerleading, this time as captain of her team. At her final summer training camp, someone slips a drug into her drink and she suddenly becomes sleepy, but she's determined to throw away her empty cup. After following the boy who gave her the drink, everything goes black and she awakens in the hospital, where she's told that she was drugged, raped, and found in the water. The police have little to go on and Hermione must deal with the fact that she has been harmed but remembers nothing.

This review may contain spoilers, so I'm going to put a spoiler warning, here.

WARNING! Skip to the rating if you're concerned about potential spoilers!!!!

Exit, Pursued by a Bear (which the author describes as a cheerleading-Shakespeare mash-up) is unique in that the author chose to write it as a "model" for what rape victims should experience, rather than a story that describes the typical treatment of a rape victim. So, when Hermione wakes up, she's treated with kindness and respect by the police and they do everything possible to find the rapist, her friends and family are supportive and willing to give her space if she needs it or affection if she feels they're too distant. When the typical "She was asking for it" rumor starts up, people believe her when she tells them the truth about what happened and why appearances were deceiving. She is provided a counselor who drives to her house rather than making her go to him. And, as she slowly begins to recover her memories, she's well cared for when she experiences panic attacks or other physical reactions. The only things that aren't perfect: Hermione's boyfriend is angry and distant and, of course, there is a rumor to be dealt with.

I would say Exit, Pursued by a Bear is "feminist" in that it takes a topic that mostly applies to women and treats it as if women were valued equally. Otherwise, it's just a good read. But, it does require explanation and I found myself hungering to discuss the book, for that reason. Is a book that is written as a "What if?" rather than a truthful account of what happens in life problematic if it's not obvious what the author is doing? Or, does it matter that the author's notes are pretty much necessary to the understanding? Hmm, I don't know. I did need the author to explain what she intended, though. My entire perspective shifted when I read the author interview. Also, the title requires explanation if you're not knowledgeable about Shakespeare, and I am not. I was unaware that "Exit. Pursued by a bear." is stage direction from The Winter's Tale, which I've never read or seen performed. After reading about the meaning of the title, I understood the clever naming of Hermione Winters (there's a Hermione in the play) and the fact that she's wrestling with a metaphorical bear (how to regain her identity).

Highly recommended - Even if I had not been told (via an author interview) what the author was trying to accomplish, I would have considered Exit, Pursued by a Bear a well-written and thought-provoking book. Knowing her goal gave it a lot more meaning, though, so if you go into this book blind and there is no author interview available in the copy you read, I definitely recommend that you look for an interview with the author. Its meaning is entirely different from what it appears, once you understand her purpose. I did have one problem with the book. I always wondered why the police and Hermione presumed that one of her male teammates must be the rapist when there were clearly other males at the camp. But, that was the only flaw I observed.

©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.

Mini reviews - On Tyranny by T. Snyder, Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

It's time to play a little catch-up and, since I've already reviewed almost all of the ARCs I've read, I'm going for mini reviews of those I have not. Afterlife by Marcus Sakey is the only remaining ARC I need to review and I'll give it a full post.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder is a book that is meant as a guide for how to behave with an authoritarian in power. While the author didn't mention our current American president by name a single time, he did refer to him on occasion in generic terms. Some examples of the "lessons":

  • Do not obey in advance.
  • Defend institutions. 
  • Beware the one-party state. 
  • Believe in truth. 
  • Contribute to good causes.
  • Be kind to our language. (This chapter includes an exceptional list of recommended reading material to offer additional perspective, as well as some advice readers will love: "... get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books").
  • Be as courageous as you can.

Before I read On Tyranny, I read some reviews at Goodreads and discovered that it made a few readers burn with anger at the perceived comparison of our current president to the well-known German authoritarian who slaughtered 6 million + people. So, I was watching for direct comparisons. There are none. Not one. There may be comments about behaviors that the latter exhibited and the former is now also showing, but no claims that one is becoming the other. I watched an interview with the author (on video; unfortunately, I don't recall which organization it was that interviewed Snyder, but I expect there are a few available online) and he was pretty clear that comparing 45 to a specific tyrant was not his goal. I highly recommend looking up interviews with Snyder if you intend to read the book.

While not the easiest read, I thought Snyder had some excellent advice, offered from a purely historical perspective, and I plan to reread it soon to help solidify what I learned. It's a quick read, just 126 pages and the book is smaller than a mass market paperback.

Highly recommended to those concerned about today's political climate and certainly not limited to one or the other side. It does help if you take off your red- or blue-tinted lenses and try to remain neutral. Read it for a viewpoint colored by history, not politics.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is the story of a teenager who has developed an email friendship with one of his classmates. He doesn't know who the classmate is; all he knows is that they're both gay and talking to the friend he calls "Blue" is helping him come to terms with his homosexuality. What he wants most is to find the strength to come out.

Unfortunately, a fellow by the name of Martin has gotten a peek into Simon's email account and now he's blackmailing Simon. If Simon won't help Martin get together with the girl Martin admires, he'll spill the beans about Simon's sexuality. Will Simon summon the courage to come out to more than an anonymous friend? Will Martin give away Simon's secret before he's ready? Who is Blue?

I loved absolutely everything about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It's a good book that's well paced with a lot going on, great characters, a mystery (Who is Blue?) and high stakes. It's also a book that treats its characters and their emotions with tremendous respect.

Highly recommended - The timing was pretty awesome. I chose Simon, etc. because it was calling to me without considering the fact that I was starting a book with an LGBTQ character right as Gay Pride Month was beginning. It wasn't till I was in the middle of the book that the timing occurred to me. At any rate, it's a good read for any time of the year.

©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, July 03, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • More Was Lost : A Memoir by Eleanor Perenyi and 
  • Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn by Caroline Moorehead - both purchased, but I don't think I've ordered anything since. More Was Lost is Capricious Heather's fault. 
  • Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan - from Emily Bestler Books (an Atria imprint) for review
  • The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang - from Thomas Dunne Books (a St. Martin's Press Imprint) for review

Since I'm getting ready to take some time off from blogging (soon) and I've put myself on a limited book-buying ban, the arrivals should start to seriously trickle off. But, there will still be some coming in, now and then, since I've pre-ordered a few books. And, let's face it, this house is a book magnet.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
  • Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston  

A note on the title, thanks to those who wrote about it on Goodreads: The title comes from stage direction in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale: "Exit. Pursued by a bear." I'm only halfway through the book but I've read enough, now, to understand it. The protagonist's name is Hermione Winters and while at cheerleading camp, she's drugged and raped. The bear that pursues her is the lingering struggle with the assault and her identity. She's wrestling with a metaphorical bear, in other words. In context, the name is incredibly clever, but I would probably have ignored the book because the title made no sense to me, had it not been recommended to me as a suggestion for my feminist reading project. Warning: This book will shred you. It's so emotional I lost all my eye makeup reading just the first half. And, Hermione has an incredible support system. Not everyone I know who's been raped has had support when needed. I can't begin to imagine how much worse it is for someone who is accused of making up a rape to cover for sexual activity by those she trusted (yes, that happened to a friend).

I've got another book that I plan to start, tonight, but I doubt I'll pick it up till I've finished Exit, Pursued by a Bear because I must know what happens to Hermione.

In other news:

This weekend we went to a bird sanctuary off the Natchez Trace Parkway to practice shooting with my new zoom lens and, good grief, have I got some learning to do. It's a long lens and most of the other long lenses I've owned have required some adjustment to deal with the fact that they let in less light. This one is the opposite: more light sensitive, by far, than I'm accustomed to. So, most of the photos I took of white herons just blew out completely. Here's one that's not too embarrassing, although I may have overcompensated for the light problem (but the sky really was that dreary):

That was pretty much the excitement for the weekend. Happy early Independence Day to the Americans!

©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.