Friday, March 30, 2018

Fiona Friday

Happy Easter!

©2018 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, March 29, 2018

Supergifted by Gordon Korman (Ungifted #2)

I want to make a note of the fact that this is the second in a series but it stands fine on its own, up front, because I'd hate for anyone to miss out on the reading of Supergifted merely because they can't find a copy of the first book.

Ungifted was the story of Donovan Curtis, an average boy who was accidentally sent to the Academy for Scholastic Distinction, where he met his friend Noah Youkilis. I missed reading Ungifted, but I've read Gordon Korman's writing, before (unfortunately, I didn't review Schooled, but I remember it well), and I had a feeling I wouldn't have any problem reading the second in a series by Korman.

I was right. Korman nicely gives you just enough information to let you know what happened in Ungifted without totally giving away the plot. So, you never get that, "something's missing" sensation that you can get from series books that don't stand alone well, while reading Supergifted.

Donovan's friend Noah is supergifted, with an extraordinarily high IQ. But, what Noah really wants more than anything, now that he's been kicked out of the Academy for Scholastic Distinction, is to fail. And, Donovan's school is definitely the right place for him to fail because it's normal. They do things Noah never would have imagined doing at the Academy. Not only does he want the opportunity to fail, but Noah likes a challenge. And, he's tremendously clumsy, so signing up to be a cheerleader will certainly challenge him.

Donovan's worried about Noah, but he's even more worried about his brother-in-law's dog. She has bitten a child, in the past, and when Donovan moves to protect Noah from getting a beating from "Hashtag" Taggart, the dog takes a bite of his arm. When Noah decides he must fight Hashtag, Donovan follows. But, then something surprising happens and Donovan stops a freak accident from becoming a disastrous inferno.

Nobody knows who the "Superkid" that saved the lives of head cheerleader Megan Mercury and her family is. But, when Noah steps forward to say that it was him, Donovan's half jealous and half worried. Noah is supergifted but not at lying. What if Noah tells the truth and Donovan's heroics are found out? Hashtag has told Donovan to stay away or the dog will be turned in as a menace. The farther the story of heroism goes, the more Noah is lauded as the Superkid, the worse things become. Will Noah give Donovan's secret away?

Recommended - It took me a while to warm up to this story but there's a lot more to it than I mentioned in my way-to-long synopsis and once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. For example, Donovan's sister, her military husband, and their infant daughter are living with Donovan's family, so he has to deal with a crying baby and advice from a marine, in addition to school and concerns about his best friend. Donovan and Noah are in a robotics group at the Academy and something has gone wrong with their robot. And, Donovan has a puppy, which means loads of crazy puppy antics. What's most important about Supergifted, though, is that Noah and Donovan are both terrific kids who mean well. And, the book will definitely make you or the middle reader in your life smile.

©2018 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, March 28, 2018

I Am the Boss of this Chair by Carolyn Crimi and Marisa Morea

In I Am the Boss of this Chair, Oswald is an only cat and the king of his household, the "boss" of the chair, sole owner of his mouse, Bruce, guardian of the back door, and the one who decides when it's feeding time. He also is in charge of the toilet paper roll (playing with it, that is). So, when a new kitten named Pom-Pom arrives, his world is turned upside down.

Suddenly, he has to deal with someone playing with his toilet paper, walking through the pet door, demanding meals at the wrong time and even sitting in his chair! Oswald tries everything to wake up Pom-Pom when he takes over Oswald's chair, without success. But, it's when Pom-Pom starts playing with Bruce that Oswald's unhappiness boils over.

I chase Pom-Pom over the sofa,
under the coffee table, 
and up the curtain. 

Both kitties get in trouble for making a mess. But, it's time for Oswald's favorite program. He climbs onto his chair and stretches, then he starts thinking.

Is it possible that we can share the chair?
Dare I ask, is it also possible that it's even more fun
when we share the chair? And more snuggly?

The two watch Chef Andre sauté salmon on TV and they head-butt each other. Now that they've learned to share, they play together, eat together, go in and out the back door and share Bruce the mouse. Oswald keeps his favorite pillow to himself, but they're friends.

Highly recommended, especially to cat lovers - A cute and surprisingly accurate account of what it's like to bring a new kitten into a one-cat household (although, I should add, throwing a new kitty in with the old immediately is a no-no -- gradual introduction is key). In fact, as I was reading about Oswald and Pom-Pom, I was reminded of how Fiona, who had been "Only Cat" for 6 months, gave up playing with her jingle balls and began playing with quieter toys when she realized tiny Isabel was just going to jump in and steal any noisy toy she played with. But, at the same time, she gradually learned that snuggling and playing together was fun, although she's always kept some special toys or favorite sleeping spots to herself. Cat lovers will especially enjoy reading this one to their little ones.

Giveaway coming: I was going to do a giveaway of I Am the Boss of this Chair, this week, but I have just been reminded that the coming weekend is Easter weekend. So, I'm going to wait and hold the drawing later. It will be a quick drawing, so watch this space, next week, and, if you do Twitter, also watch my timeline. My @ name is Bookfoolery at Twitter. The drawing will be open only to those in the US and Canada. I'll get back to you on the date. .

©2018 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, March 26, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, 20th Anniversary edition from Penguin
  • Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor - purchased
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman - purchased
  • Look for Her by Emily Winslow - from HarperCollins

Finally, a book stack! So exciting, after three weeks of no arrivals. Norse Mythology is the book I checked out from my library that had such a short check-out time that I decided to just go ahead and buy a copy. Gaiman has gradually grown on me, over the years. Although I still dislike some of his writing, what I do enjoy I love. So, it's likely one I would have wanted to end up owning, anyway. And, don't you love that cover?

Just One Damned Thing After Another is one that I looked up after seeing it rated by a friend on Goodreads. I hope it's as fun as it sounds. Look for Her is from HarperCollins and it may or may not be an ARC that I won in a drawing for a random ARC. I suspect it is because I don't recall requesting it and there was no publicity material included in the envelope. I haven't checked my ARC file to verify that because, whatever . . . I'm going to read it, either way.

If You Come Softly arrived unsolicited from Penguin in a metallic green bubble wrap envelope. You guys, I just love that envelope so much it's a wonder that I noticed there was a book inside. But, I did and the book is striking, too. I've only read two books by Jacqueline Woodson, so far. One I loved, one I didn't. I got to see her speak at our local book festival and she is amazing. I loved hearing what she had to say about writing and life and have been wanting to read more of her work, so I'll be gobbling this one down, soon. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso 
  • Supergifted by Gordon Korman 

I enjoyed The Woman Next Door even more, the second time, and discussion was great (I've already written about it -- if you missed that post, see links below). And, Supergifted is loads of fun.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I'm going to shoot for finishing Princesses Behaving Badly, this week, and I also am dying to get started on the second book in the Warren the 13th children's series. Lincoln in the Bardo is the April selection for my F2F book group and I already owned a copy. So far, I'm finding it a bit bizarre but fascinating. Having said that, I've read two other George Saunders books and, let's face it, "bizarre" is his specialty. I'm trying to follow my own advice, given to friends in my book group before I started on the book, myself: "Relax and embrace the weird." 

Last week's posts:

Whew! My weekend onslaught leaves me with exactly 3 books to review, one of which will also include a giveaway (a children's book). And, of course, I'll do my best to finish more books before I catch up with myself. But, I'm happy to be so close, at this point. Just in looking back at the links, I can tell you that none of those books were duds, not one. 

In other news:

I watched a handful of episodes of Dr. Who, this weekend, and a couple episodes of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (which I prefer to the more recent movie because it sticks closer to the storyline). I'm still on William Hartnell's Dr. Who, but there were so many missing or unavailable episodes between the two episode series that I watched, that we lost one companion and got a new one. I'm going to have to look online to see what happened to Vicki. I've heard some of the early Dr. Who episodes were filmed over but there have also been times in the available episodes that the quality has suddenly gone bad -- the film goes dark or blurry. So, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the episodes that are unavailable have simply deteriorated over time.

Otherwise, we only watched bits and pieces of various movies when we sat down to take a break from cleaning or to eat, including Independence Day. Otherwise, we did thrilling stuff like finishing the utility room cleaning and sweeping the dust out of the back of the piano. And, you thought your life was exciting.

©2018 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, March 25, 2018

The Brontë Sisters by Catherine Reef and a reread of The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

There were two books that helped break my February book slump: Our Native Bees and The Brontë Sisters. It was at my worst moment, when I could absolutely not bear to read another word of anything with a bookmark in it, that I decided to just let something call to me. I'd been glancing at The Brontë Sisters for days, by that point. It's an ARC that I got at my former library, back in the days when I'd occasionally drop by and find that they'd set out a cart full of ARCs for anyone to take, free of charge. I happened across my copy while doing a book purge and set it at the top of a bedside stack, thinking eventually I would get to it.

Then, I let it call out to me. The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, is a children's biography of the sisters, but I can't say what age it's geared toward, although I think a middle schooler could easily handle it. The Brontë Sisters is also certainly comprehensive enough for an adult to enjoy -- a read that can be quickly gobbled up in an afternoon but not one that's lacking in any way because it's geared to a younger crowd. The Brontë Sisters includes a nice range of photos of documents, paintings, and other memorabilia.

I am not, in fact, really a Brontë fan. I liked Jane Eyre but detested Wuthering Heights. And, that's the limit of my exposure to the Brontës. But, Catherine Reef describes the lives of the Brontës and the events that were occurring during the writing of each book, including the plots of the books, in a manner that intrigued me enough that I would have immediately picked up a Brontë book to read, had I not already written a list of books that I needed to read in the coming month. It's likely I'll return to the book to read whatever section happens to be about each title, when I eventually do read more Brontë works. Reef definitely gave me an appreciation of the stories that I lacked while I read the two. Recommended for readers who are intrigued with the tragic Brontë family and/or their books.

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The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso is a reread and I've already reviewed it (click on the title, above, to hop to my review) but I think it's worth mentioning the reread because it was quite a different experience. The first time I read The Woman Next Door, I did so because I wanted to read something set in South Africa before going on vacation there. The second time, I read it because I recommended it for discussion with my F2F book group.

What made the second reading different was the fact that this time I'd already been to South Africa. The Woman Next Door is set in a fictional neighborhood called Katterijn in Cape Town. It's about two elderly women who hate each other: one black, one white. But, there are some subtleties of characterization that you miss if you aren't familiar with Cape Town. I found that the book was even more enjoyable when I read it knowing the history of those areas.

Marion, the white woman who is racist but not self-aware, lived in District 6 for a short time, early in her life, for example. I had no idea what the significance of District 6 was, of course, having never been there when I first read it. But, while we were in Cape Town, we went on a tour that included the District 6 museum. District 6 was a part of Cape Town that was known for its diversity. A community that had attracted people from a large variety of races, backgrounds, and religions, the people of District 6 lived in blissful harmony till the Apartheid government kicked everyone out and plowed it down (unity being something that collided with the concept of control by minority, which is facilitated by division).

The area was an island unto itself. It wasn't necessary to go into Cape Town proper to buy groceries, go to school, or join in on activities. So, had Marion stayed in District 6, she undoubtedly would have grown up appreciating diversity. But, her parents were Jewish and escaped the Holocaust (this is more implied than stated), gave up their religion when they fled, and moved out of District 6 as quickly as they could. When Marion finally realizes how racist she is, it appears to startle her to think back on the fact that she was once a resident of the same neighborhood that spawned anti-Apartheid activists such as Nelson Mandela.

As to the discussion . . . it was fabulous. It's worth noting that I'm in a group in which the average age is probably about 20 years above mine (and I'm no spring chicken). A story about two elderly women, aged 88 and 82, with richly developed characterization was very much appreciated in that group. Only one of the women present disliked The Woman Next Door and she said her problem was the bitchiness of the characters. Well, there's no denying they're not pleasant people. But, there was purpose to their sharp tongues (they were wounded souls) and a meaning to their slow arrival at the realization that they were more alike than they could have imagined.

It's also notable that one of the group members observed the negative reviews at Goodreads appear to mostly have been written by younger women. Maybe it takes a bit of hard living and long years to truly appreciate the depth of meaning in The Woman Next Door. But, it definitely was a hit in my book group.

©2018 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.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees

I ordered a copy of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande on a bit of a whim after reading Al Franken's repeated exhortations about what a great guy Gawande is in Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I'd heard of it but I don't believe I read any reviews of Being Mortal before I ordered it. As it turned out, the book was perfect for the moment in which I read it.

Atul Gawande is a physician who has slowly come to the realization that we make a mess of end-of-life care and decision-making and shares what he has learned and experienced. He talks about the different ways of handling the care of elders in decline, including a variety of approaches from allowing the elderly to make their own decisions and lock their doors -- even if it means they're shortening their own lives by continuing to do such things as eat unhealthy foods -- to the opposite extreme of nursing home care in which the elderly are confined, and various experiments and options in between, such as a nursing home with pets for the seniors to care for.

Gawande also talks about how important it is for those who are aging and/or dying to be able to decide what is most important to them as they approach their dying days. Throughout the book, he gradually tells the story of his own father's years with a slow-growing cancer and both the mistakes and wise decisions that were made.

Highly recommended - Being Mortal is a book I think absolutely everyone should read at some point, whether one is reading from the perspective of a caregiver or that of an older person who wants to be informed about end-of-life decisions like choosing a place to live. We were in the process of losing a family member as I was reading the book and while I was not the caregiver in this particular case, it helped me in surprising ways and even was reassuring about how we handled my mother's death, almost 10 years ago. I'll probably end up rereading Being Mortal at least a couple times. Whether you have aging parents, a family member who is terminally ill, or just want to think about how to eventually handle major life decisions in the future, it's a book about something we'll all face and a valuable resource for helping one gain perspective about what the options are and the most important questions to ask.

The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music, and Cocktails by Jim Dees is about a year of life in Oxford, Mississippi during a time when a surprisingly controversial decision about whether or not to erect a statue of William Faulkner and where to put it had the residents of Oxford up in arms. Author Jim Dees was working for the local newspaper, during the time in question, and he describes various other happenings in the town, which at the time was still quite small (it's had quite a population explosion, in the past decade or so) and has been the host and a musician for the local radio show, Thacker Mountain Radio, for some time.

I read The Statue and the Fury for book group discussion in February but then missed the discussion because of a heavy thunderstorm (I live 30 miles from where my group meets, now), unfortunately. Both of my sons have degrees from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and one is back there, working on a second degree. So, we're familiar with the city, the statue in question, the bookstore, the radio show, and some of the local personalities. However, there were occasions when the author described various people and I had to dash off to look them up. And, the flow of the book is pretty rocky. It actually took me quite a while to realize the book wasn't a series of columns but a reflection on a specific year. The lack of flow confused me into thinking it was more of a collection of writings than a recollection of a specific time period.

Having said that, anyone who is passionate about William Faulkner's books will probably enjoy a peek into the crazy controversy about whether or not to put up a statue, the huge flap about a tree that was surreptitiously cut down during a time when tree-chopping was a little out of control, and the memories of Faulkner shared by various friends, relatives, and acquaintances of his. I particularly enjoyed finally finding out why there are two spellings of Faulkner (Falkner is the original spelling; Will or Bill, as he was known, added the "u") on the signs in Oxford. I particularly recommend The Statue and the Fury to Faulkner fans, Mississippians, and those who have lived in Oxford or visited the town. It's a bit disjointed -- not the best writing -- but a few of those small-town stories are worth the price of the book.

©2018 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.

Minis: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Franken and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I've decided I'm going to do several sets of mini reviews to get myself caught up (again) since a good portion of the books I have left to review are from my personal stacks. Any books from publishers will get separate, full reviews.

I ordered Al Franken, Giant of the Senate because I figured it would be a funny book about life in the Senate and I've liked Al for as long as I can remember. Boy, was I surprised. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate is more than I could have imagined. It's funny, yes, but it's also educational. Rather than just describing his senate years, Franken goes back to his early life and explains how and why he became a liberal, a satirist (he prefers "satirist" over "comedian"), a Harvard grad, and a senator, his difficult entry into politics, and the challenges he faced specifically because of his background in show business.

The only things I really knew about Franken as a senator (as opposed to Franken the satirist) before reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, were the facts that he's a Democrat and that he asked by far the best questions of any senator when he vetted people for cabinet seats in the current administration. I'd paid little attention to him, otherwise, but I was definitely impressed at the precision of what he asked and the clear knowledge and/or research behind his questions. And, it turns out there's good reason for his amazing questioning skills: Al Franken did his research.

By the time I read Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, Franken had already been forced out of the Senate by female senators who ganged up on him without granting him the investigation he was willing to go through and deserved. So, it was particularly interesting to read about the ways he had to defend himself in the past, the challenge of trying to get the Democratic party to endorse him, the vetting he submitted to in order to make sure that nothing like what ended his career in the Senate would happen, and the sacrifices of Franken and his family to do a job that he felt driven to do because of his passion to help others. I never believed he got a fair shake, in the end, and I'm doubly convinced after reading his story; but, I do believe I understand why he gave up so easily. Al Franken was one of those rare politicians who was in it for his constituents, not to make himself piles of money. An excellent book, highly recommended. I'd like to go back and read some of his older books, when I have the time.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a book I read with an online book group. Seemingly everyone else on the planet has read and reviewed the book, so I feel like I'm a little late to the ballgame and I liked it perhaps a bit less than most, but it's a powerful story that I'm very glad I read.

16-year-old Starr lives in an impoverished neighborhood but attends a school in an upscale part of town, so she's learned to shift between the two worlds. On her home turf, she speaks the dialect of those around her; in school, she softens her language to match that of her fellow students. Putting on a different front at school takes effort, but it becomes even harder to hide her true feelings and self after an old friend is killed by a police officer when the officer mistakes the handle of a hairbrush for a gun. Starr is in the car when he's shot and sees him die.

Shocked by her experience, Starr does everything she can to see justice served but is stunned to find that nobody takes her seriously. Is there anything Starr can do to change the outcome and prevent more of the same, or will Starr's childhood friend always be known as just another drug-dealing black guy who made the wrong move, even though he did nothing wrong?

I thought The Hate U Give was excellent, powerful, important, and necessary. I only had one real problem with it and that was the vernacular. I did try to look up some of the words and expressions that I didn't know but was unable to find all of them. In general, I tend to really dislike books that are written in dialect. But, it was crucial to Starr's character to show the two sides of her. So, I looked up what I could and guessed at other words. Fortunately, I was eventually able to ask around and find out the meaning of the words I was unable to locate definitions for online. But, not knowing while I read frustrated me and that's why I gave the book 4 stars. Still . . . an emotional read that is truly of the moment. The Hate U Give shines a light on a uniquely American problem.

I read The Hate U Give electronically, so it won't appear on my stack of February reads when I get around to posting my Month in Review (running late on that, clearly). It was a good one to read for discussion because of both the difficulty I had with the lingo and the fact that the people in my discussion group had a lot of unique insight to contribute. I really appreciated reading other viewpoints. Recommended.

©2018 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, March 24, 2018

The Saboteur by Paul Kix

Subtitled "The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando", The Saboteur is the fascinating true World War II story of a courageous Frenchman. Robert de La Rochefoucauld was 16 when the Germans invaded France in 1940. From a window in his family's ancestral chateau, all but his father (who was serving in the French army) watched the bombing of nearby Soissons. The family escaped to the home of their grandmother, another huge ancestral home in the South of France, eventually returning to find that their roof was missing and Nazis had occupied the house. For a time, the family was forced to live side-by-side with Nazis and during this time, Robert listened to Charles de Gaulle's radio broadcasts from London.

Although Robert did not join the Resistance for a couple of years, he attempted to start up a band of his own to fight the Nazis and was denounced by an unknown party. Forced to leave home to survive, he hiked through the Pyranees mountain range with some British pilots, led by mountain men. After being led to Spain, La Rochefoucauld and the two pilots were promptly imprisoned. But, eventually, their release was secured and Robert ended up at his destination in London. There, he was trained by the SEO and then parachuted back into France to train Resistance members (then somewhat organized but not skilled) in the use of explosives and in combat. He was caught and imprisoned two more times and the escapes are worthy of movie treatment. These were what kept me going.

In between the exciting scenes of hiding explosives in loaves of bread and shoe heels, blowing things up, escaping from prison, and sneaking through town in a nun's habit are some lengthy descriptions of various Nazis, torture methods, and other details that are not quite as fast-paced or fun to read, although they do round out the picture. I was mostly in it for the exciting scenes and I wish some of them had not been skimmed over, although there's ample indication that the details simply weren't available to the author, as the subject himself was a man of few words who said little about the war till late in his life. You could say I wanted the novel, not the nonfiction. But, much as I craved the action scenes and found the other parts slow, I still thought The Saboteur a very good read and I'm glad to know about Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

Recommended - A solid work of nonfiction about one man's role in the French Resistance and his many daring escapades. While there were some details that could be a bit of a yawn to read, I think most of the background material in The Saboteur was necessary to paint a complete picture. And, even so, the duller background information is well worth reading to get to the edge-of-your-seat scenes, some of which are truly mind-blowing. Later in life, Robert de La Rochefoucauld inherited his family's title and became Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

©2018 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, March 23, 2018

Fiona Friday with note

Has Izzy got your attention? Good. I've pre-posted what amounts to a veritable avalanche of reviews and scheduled them to publish over the weekend, so I just though I should warn my readers. Only one of the reviews is an ARC, tomorrow's review of The Saboteur by Paul Kix. The rest are books from my personal stacks, which will appear in 3 posts on Sunday -- 2 reviews per post. That will get me close to the elusive concept of "catching up" (again). Happy Weekend!

©2018 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, March 22, 2018

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Master Spy starts out with a bang. 15-year-old Sarah emerges from the floor of her mother's car to find that her mother has been shot dead at a checkpoint in Germany. Will the Nazis know to look for a child? She's not sticking around to find out.

It's 1939 and Sarah is an orphan, half-Jewish, and on the run. But, Sarah has a few marks in her favor. She is physically adept (a former gymnast), smart as a whip, and blonde with blue eyes. She's small for her age, which means she can get away with pretending she's as young as 11 or 12. And, her Aryan features mean she can hide in plain sight if she can find a way to obtain false papers. After a night sleeping on a roof to evade the Nazis, she finds a friend. But, his life is in danger, as well.

When Sarah offers to help out with an important mission, it means going where the worst of her enemies live, inside a Nazi girls' boarding school where she is tasked with befriending the daughter of a scientist who has created a devastating bomb the size of a grapefruit. Can Sarah survive school and befriend Elsa in time to save the world from this bomb? Sarah finds the task is even more challenging than she'd imagined. She's is naturally a bit caustic and her sharp intellect can get her in trouble. Making friends is not easy. She's already a fish out of water and there's a social hierarchy at the boarding school. The only way to befriend Elsa is for Sarah to make her way to the top tier.

Highly recommended - Smart, scary, tense and gripping - a terrific read with the kind of disturbing, violent moments that are typical of realistic WWII novels. Sarah is fierce but flawed, a tough and witty character whom you can really get behind; and, the English captain she befriends has clearly also lived through a lot. I liked hanging out with them in the first part of the book. But, then comes the really scary part.

Life at a Nazi boarding school is insane. I can admit I found the boarding school parts much more uncomfortable to read, although Sarah is befriended by another girl who doesn't quite fit in (so, at least she always has one friend to rely on) and there are plenty of action scenes. The hardest part is the bullying and some vicious scenes of violent abuse. The girls are rough on each other, with an initiation for the new students and competition to get into the favored group. Will Sarah succeed at befriending Elsa? Will she get caught out as a spy? Will she survive the brutality of the girls she lives with and their teachers? Orphan Monster Spy had a slight sagging middle problem but the phenomenal ending is worth sticking it out. I never even remotely considered setting the book aside. Sarah's a terrific character and I cared about her. The reward for sticking out the slower part is immense.

The ending hints at continuation of Sarah's story, so I wrote to the publicist to ask if Orphan Monster Spy is a series book and she confirmed that it is, indeed, the first in a series. It's wrapped up completely and could stand on its own, though: no cliffhanger ending. I'm grateful to the author for that (I abhor cliffhangers). I'll be looking forward to reading more of Sarah's adventures.

©2018 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, March 20, 2018

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry

We really don't have a good idea of how well wild bees are holding up to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation plus whatever effects climate change, imported bees, parasites, and diseases may be having. We do know that some bees are in decline. The data on the current status of most bees are patchy at best, and few areas have been well studied. Bee surveys take a huge amount of time and money, and someone has to identify all those bees.

~from. p. 148 of Our Native Bees

Our Native Bees: North America's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry is just what it sounds like - a book about bees that are native to North America, their declining numbers, and what bees do for humans -- and one woman's quest to learn all about them. But, it goes well beyond that, into talk about how little research has been done about bees, how many species of bees exist (20,000!!!) , why honeybees (which are not native to North America) and bumblebees get all the attention but aren't the best pollinators, how poisoning bees that carry worms damaging to trees interrupts a natural cycle without actually helping the trees, whether burning or mowing certain areas is better or worse for bees, etc.

The author, Paige Embry, has a passion for learning about bees and visited with experts across the country to interview them, view bee collecting and identification in person, and basically gobble up every bit of bee information she can. And, Embry describes her experience with a marvelous sense of humor:

The method I learned at Gordon's bee class involves puting the bees in a tea strainer (hopefully one dedicated to lab use) that functions as a tiny bee tumble dryer as you blow hot air from a hair dryer at the strainer. The purpose of the rinse and blow dry is to fluff up the bee's hair. You can see the colors better, it's easier to move the hair to look for markings, and, well, the bees just look better. I know they're dead and the last part shouldn't matter, but I've acted as a mortician for quite a few bees at this point, and I don't want them to be preserved forevermore in the midst of a bad hair day. So I coif dead bees. My children find me creepy. 

~from p. 105 of Our Native Bees

I was out in the field with an old bee biologist once, and a bunch of little bees were zipping about. He said they were halictids (sweat bees). They were tiny. I wondered how he knew that they were halictids and not, say, Ceratina or Hylaeus. So I asked him. His response was something along the lines of "they have a certain gestalt." Gestalt? Well, pish, that's not going to help me learn to identify them.

~p. 111

If you have even the slightest interest in bees, you should definitely read Our Native Bees. It'll give you a well-rounded idea of what's going on with bees -- the threats they face, the way they're managed by humans and how important they are to American crops, what "colony collapse" is all about, and much more. Our Native Bees is crammed with gorgeous photos. It's a beautiful book on high-quality paper.

Highly recommended - One of the books that helped break my brief February reading slump, I could be found leaning forward, rapt, for days as I read Our Native Bees, occasionally smiling at something funny the author said or reading favorite parts aloud to my husband. The most important takeaway from this book:

The one thing you can do to help bees, no matter where you live: plant flowers. Even if you live in an apartment and only have a small outdoor space, planting flowers can make a huge difference to bee populations. We've just potted some spring flowers. I don't know if we're near anything that needs pollinating as a food source but the author said sometimes city flowers are closer to areas where food sources are planted than fields in the middle of the boonies, so you never know . . . you could be helping provide the food at your local market and helping strengthen your local bee population.

©2018 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, March 19, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • None. Again. 

I think this makes 3 weeks with no arrivals? Some that I've been expecting have not arrived, so now I'm actually a little worried that something is happening to the ARCs (we did, at one time, have a postal worker who was stealing packages). But, we're not short of books in this household. And, I did order a few, this week -- one of them because the library book had a too-quick due date. So, hopefully, I'll have some pretty, shiny new books for you to admire, next Monday.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix

Both were excellent - one a WWII YA spy novel, the other the nonfiction story of a daring man in the French Resistance (a nobleman who later inherited the family title, Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld). I've already written a Goodreads review of The Saboteur, which I finished yesterday, and I'll rewrite it as a blog post, soon. And, my draft of Orphan Monster Spy (a tour book scheduled for Thursday) is nearly complete.

Currently reading:

  • Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso 

Poor Don Quixote had to sit around yawning, this week, because I had priorities and he just couldn't be squeezed in. And, I still need to reread The Woman Next Door (for F2F discussion) before I can return to him. But, soon. Very soon. The great thing about Don Quixote is that his exploits are so unforgettable it's easy to pick up where you've left off, even after a week or two.

Princesses Behaving Badly is a book of stories about real-life princesses who were not content to sit around waiting for the opposing army to defeat King/Emperor Daddy or their own armies to be run over. They were the kind to run into battle, not wait for the results. I'm finding it a tiny bit dry and wishing it had maps but neither of those are enough to convince me to stop. I love reading about heroic, smart, indefatigable women.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

This was not a TV weekend. I decided my utility room was getting too cluttery and both the counter and cabinets needed to be cleaned and rearranged, so we first cleared the kitchen counters to use for sorting and then emptied cabinets, shuffled various objects, filled a box with things to donate, and made use of the circular file. We're not done, even after two days of working on it, but we're close. When we needed a break, we watched an episode or two of Dr. Who or read. And, last Thursday we watched this for the first time:

I've seen a lot of people mention Weekend at Bernie's when the topic of Andrew McCarthy's acting comes up (I follow him on Twitter) because it seems to be a favorite, particular a favorite of the males. But, I'd never seen it and it was on, so we watched roughly half of it. We didn't manage to see the entire movie because it was late, but we were both enjoying it and would really like to see the second half. I'll have to see if I can find a place to stream it, soon. It's such a different role from what I typically saw McCarthy play in the 80s (like Pretty in Pink, the dreamboat role).

The last episode of Dr. Who that I watched was the final episode for companions Barbara and Ian, who were finally able to return to London of 1965. I'll miss them, but I think that at least means I've made it to Season 3 of William Hartnell.

©2018 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, March 16, 2018

Fiona Friday

With apologies to Facebook friends, who have already seen this - my favorite photo of the week. Fiona was on my lap.

©2018 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, March 15, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James weaves together two stories. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for girls who are unwanted or difficult. Established in 1919 and never maintained well, the uniforms and many of the textbooks have never been updated. In 1950, four girls attending the school become friends. Then, one of them disappears. In 2014, a reporter who has spent her time writing fluff pieces finds out that the long-closed and derelict school has been bought and is being restored. But, why? Surely it could never turn a profit. As Fiona seeks to uncover the reason for the purchase and a body is discovered on the property, the search for answers may lead the intrepid reporter into danger. How did the body found on Idlewild property end up where it has been found? What was the girl's story? Does her disappearance have any connection to the death, in 1994, of Fiona's sister?

By far one of the best mystery/suspense books I've read in months, I found The Broken Girls so compelling that I ditched my chores and spent an afternoon curled up with the book, unable to bear putting it down.

Highly recommended - Gripping, well-written, creepy, and satisfying. I was most surprised by the fact that The Broken Girls has a believable ghost (seriously, most ghost stories are just disappointing) as well as the realization that I had no preference between the historical and contemporary stories. Usually, in a historical/contemporary book with interwoven storylines, I'll find myself wishing the author had focused on one storyline or the other. Not so with The Broken Girls. I loved being at Idlewild Hall in 1950 and I was equally mesmerized by Fiona's story: the unfolding clues, her relationship and how it complicated her research, her family history.

I received a copy of The Broken Girls from Berkley Books in exchange for my unbiased review and wow, am I glad I said yes to this title! I've read some really disappointing attempts at suspense, this year. The Broken Girls is exceptional and I'll be be watching for future releases by Simone St. James.

©2018 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, March 13, 2018

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell

An incredibly gripping YA novel that's almost impossible to put down but also quite disturbing, Nothing Left to Burn tells the story of 16-year-old Audrey, who must evacuate her home (alone - the rest of the family is away) on the morning after she lost her virginity. The story alternates between the 24 hours after she's told to evacuate and scenes from the months she's been dating Brooks -- starting with when they met and slowly moving forward. Audrey's sister Maya has recently recovered from lymphoma and Maya's dream is to become a professional dancer. Because Maya was unable to dance while going through treatment, Audrey continued on with ballet to make Maya happy. Once Maya recovered, though, Audrey ditched the ballet because it was never really her thing.

Now, she's unsure what her thing is. But, she's met Brooks and he's even more of a mess than she is. Brooks lost a brother and plans to be a firefighter. Brooks and Audrey spend all their spare time together and they're wildly in love. Or, are they? Is this a case of two flawed people creating an even more dysfunctional couple? How did Brooks' brother die? And, what happened to set off the fire that may very well consume Audrey's house?

Nothing Left to Burn is edge-of-your-seat reading but it's also pretty horrifying. There's mention of kittens being burned alive, which I had to almost mentally block, being a cat lover (no graphic scenes of burning, just mention). There are bits and pieces of the characterization/plot that are obvious but the author does a good job of only giving you so much information, and the rest is left to your imagination till she finally reveals all, in the end. In spite of figuring a couple things out, the end was not at all what I expected and because it solved the mystery but not everything turned out as expected, I found it very satisfying.

Highly recommended with warning for some disturbing behavior - Not a happy story but certainly one that makes you think. Nothing Left to Burn would probably make a great discussion book for a YA group, especially something involving adults (maybe a Mom and daughter discussion group) who could talk about the various subjects that come up, like whether or not Audrey really wanted to sleep with Brooks or felt pressured, what kind of help the two teenagers should or could have gotten for their problems (depression, guilt, anger), spotting the danger signs in a relationship. There's a lot to talk about. I found myself wondering the age-old question, "What would you save if your house caught fire?"

Cover thoughts: While the story takes place in an upscale part of Southern California and I think it's safe to say that most, if not all, of the characters have a house with a pool, there are no pool scenes at all and I'm perplexed by the cover choice. However . . . it may change. My copy is an ARC. I'm kind of hoping the final cover will be fire-related because it really is about the devastating impact of fire and fire is what gives the book its urgency. The cover is beautiful; I just don't think it fits the content.

©2018 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, March 12, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • None. But, clearly spring has arrived so you get a glimpse of tulips, this week. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell
  • The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Both of these were excellent and almost impossible to put down. I stayed up late one night to finish Nothing Left to Burn and blew off most of my chores on Saturday to finish reading The Broken Girls.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Cervantes 
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix
  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I am absolutely loving everything I'm reading, right now, and last week was a terrific reading week. As of last night, I'm 48% into Don Quixote. Nearing the halfway point! And, I'm still every bit as entertained as I was, at first. In fact, I think pages 350 - 400 of the Edith Grossman translation I'm reading were among the best so far. Don Quixote's second visit to the inn where Sancho Panza was tossed into the air by some men with a blanket was masterful.

The Saboteur is nonfiction about a man who was in the French Resistance during WWII and Orphan Monster Spy is a YA novel about a blonde Jewish girl working in the Resistance, as well (but in Germany).  Both are so amazing that I'd really be happy to just ignore the chores, again. But, no. Someone left me a really messy kitchen (Huzzybuns experimented with his first attempt at making gyro meat) so I've done Round 1 of tackling the kitchen and Round 2 is coming up. So much scrubbing and sweeping and dishwashing to be done.

Last week's posts:

  • None. I took the week off. Did you miss me?

In other news:

The week off helped restore my urges to read and write but I didn't manage to totally shut off social media. I closed Facebook completely for about 5 days and have mostly succeeded at avoiding it, so that was good. Twitter, though . . . total failure. I continued to tweet and read tweets, all week, and I really need to walk away from it for a while. I'll try to just post blog links to Twitter, this week. Wish me luck.

Otherwise, the week was a huge success. What is it about Facebook that's so stressful? I can't figure it out but I always feel better when I close Facebook. I don't think it's merely that it's a time suck -- that's problem enough, though, and just closing Facebook really helped me to spend my time more wisely. I got some tidying done in the guest room before Kiddo arrived home for Spring Break, caught up completely on laundry for a day, enjoyed my reading more than I have in weeks, and spent more time at the gym. It's been sunny and gorgeous, most of the time, with a couple random days of heavy rain. The sunshine is always helpful for restoring one's soul.

I watched Saving Mr. Banks, last week, and am still watching the first Dr. Who, now on Season 2 of William Hartnell, because I only watch an episode on occasion, usually when I sit down with my lunch. We watched Thor: Ragnarok and Logan's Run, this weekend. All were great but I found Saving Mr. Banks a little too sad for my taste and it was the first time I've actually felt like Tom Hanks slipped up. He just didn't sound like Walt Disney, to me. Yes, I'm old enough to remember Walt Disney introducing movies on Sunday nights, although I was young enough that the Walt Disney voice I hear in my head may not be accurate.

The tulip photo above is from the gardens around our Whole Foods, of all places. They always have the most gorgeous tulips in spring. Here's another one:

©2018 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, March 05, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Rocket Men by Robert Kurson - from Random House for review via Shelf Awareness
  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen - from Viking Books for Young Readers for tour

I'm thinking two book arrivals is a nice number - not too many, not zero. I get kind of antsy when nothing at all shows up. At the moment, I'm quietly boycotting Amazon so I don't know when I'll buy any books (and I was trying to stop buying, anyway). I miss bookstores. There's not a bookstore within 30 miles of us, now.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Our Native Bees by Paige Embry
  • The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef
  • Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills

I started out the week feeling seriously slumpish, although I enjoyed Our Native Bees immensely. It was after I closed Our Native Bees that I thought, "Ugh, argh, I don't feel like reading." Sometimes, just ignoring my stacks and picking up whatever calls to me will fix that problem and I'd been glancing at The Brontë Sisters for days, wondering if it was any good. So, I listened to its call and spent an evening with the Brontës. I don't know if I'm cured, but I had fun reading Black Fortunes, after that, and I don't have that slumpish feeling, so fingers are crossed that the Brontës broke the spell.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Cervantes - same old, same old. 3 or 4 more weeks to go!

I started reading a YA, also: Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell. Unfortunately, the next morning I only vaguely remembered what I'd read, so I'm going to have to start that one over from the beginning. But, I have no plans to set it aside.

Last week's posts:

Clearly, I felt the same way about writing that I felt about reading, last week. And, I'm going to take a week off, so this will not be a better week.

In other news:

Oh, I think that was the other news. I've decided I need a break from the internet. I may sit down to write a book review, now and then, but only if I feel like it. Next week is spring break and I need to work on tidying up the guest room for Kiddo, so this seems like a decent time to step away for a week or two. I have a book tour scheduled on the 14th or 15th, so I'll definitely be back by then. But, it's possible I'll miss next week's Malarkey. I'll just find out when I get there.

©2018 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, March 02, 2018

Fiona Friday - Izzy says it's time to eat.

This is the look I get when she wants something. It was time for breakfast.

©2018 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.