Friday, December 21, 2018

Fiona Friday - Happy Holidays!

Wishing you a peaceful and happy holiday season!

©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, December 17, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon and 
  • Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley - both from Harper for review
  • Death of a Snake Catcher by Ak Welsapar,
  • One Two by Igor Eliseev, and
  • Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau - all from Glagoslav Publications, two for review, one a replacement
  • Kivalina: A Climate Change Story by Christine Shearer,
  • Splinterlands by John Feffer,
  • Diary of Bergen-Belsen: 1944-1945 by Hanna Levy-Hass, and 
  • Fighting Fascism by Clara Zetkin - purchased from Haymarket Books 
  • Time is the Longest Distance by Janet Clare - sent by author for review

It's probably worth mentioning that accepting a book from an author is a no-no according to my own review policy but I'd forgotten that until the author reminded me by mentioning that she found my review policy entertaining (I had to go back and see what I'd written, it's been so long since I updated it). Well . . . one exception due to forgetfulness is okay.

The replacement book that I mentioned above is one I've already reviewed: Death of a Snakecatcher. When I wrote about the binding problem that was causing pages to fall out out of Glagoslav books, my contact took it very seriously and got in touch with the printer. After the binding issue had been fixed, she offered replacements of the books I've been sent in 2018 and I only accepted the one because I'd like to keep that particular title for rereading.

The Haymarket Books I bought on sale. I've been interested in Haymarket titles for a while but hadn't taken the plunge. At 50% off, though, I decided the time had come. Splinterlands is the only fiction title of the four I bought.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
  • Down in Mississippi by Johnette Downing and Katherine Zecca

The latter of the two is a children's book that my youngest son bought for our eldest granddaughter and will be sending her for Christmas (I think -- he actually got her two books, so I'm not sure which one he'll send). I couldn't resist reading it before it goes out the door. 

Currently reading:

  • Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (short stories)
  • The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Friday Black is a knock-your-socks-off collection. I'm so impressed. I just started The Huntress, last night, and I didn't get very far so I considered not mentioning it but I enjoyed what little I read and think it's likely that it'll take, so to speak. I hope so. It might be responsible for the "chased by an assassin who is slowly killing off all your fellow spies" dream I had. That was an interesting dream.

Posts since last Malarkey:

  • A Duke Changes Everything (Duke's Den #1) by Christy Carlyle (book review)
  • The Third Level by Jack Finney (book review)
  • Fiona Friday - Concern (cat photo)

In other news:

We've been spending most of our free time tidying, wrapping, decorating (with the goal of going slowly overboard like they do in Hallmark movies) but we've had a little time to sit down and watch TV. We enjoyed the finale of Dr. Who, watched Sahara for the umpteenth time, and I caught a couple Hallmark movies. I liked one of them so much that I watched it twice: A Christmas Detour. I've found that I like all of the movies that star Candace Cameron Bure but this is the first one I've liked enough to watch it all over again. I think I'm all done with Christmas shopping but I need to do a mental checklist, one last time, to make sure. At the very least, I got the one bit of shipping I needed to do out of the way, so that's exciting. In recent years, we've usually been so late to ship things that sometimes they haven't arrived until after Christmas. Getting that out the door in plenty of time was a very good feeling.

©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, December 14, 2018

Fiona Friday - Concern

When Mom puts a scarf on your sister and you show your concern by sniffing her like she's some kind of alien that just landed.

©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, December 13, 2018

The Third Level by Jack Finney

The Third Level by Jack Finney is a book of short stories that I would classify as sci-fi. He tends to lean toward the fantastic, with emphasis on time travel, although this book is not exclusively dedicated to time travel as some of his other books are.

Jack Finney is one of my all-time favorite authors, best known for Time and Again (link leads to my 2014 review of Time and Again) and The Body Snatchers, which has been made into the many Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies. I'm constantly searching for more of his work. He died decades ago and it's difficult to locate his books. I found a used copy of The Third Level in very good condition and bought it earlier this year, then saved it for a time when I was in the mood for short stories and something reliably entertaining. And, it was definitely that. There has never been a time that I sat down to read Jack Finney and came away disappointed.

Some favorites: 

"The Third Level" - In the title story, Charley gets lost in New York's Grand Central Station. After stumbling through lengthy corridors, trying to find the second level to catch his train, he arrives in a mysterious third level where everyone is dressed in historical clothing, preparing to ride an old-fashioned train. He has wandered into June 11, 1894. The narrator confirms this by peering at the date on a newspaper -- one that is no longer in print.

At first, Charley's discombobulated but then he realizes that he would love to see his hometown in 1894. He's heard stories about what an idyllic place it was. He attempts to buy two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois. He'll bring his wife, Louisa, and they'll be able to see Galesburg twenty years before WWI. But, there's a problem. Charley's cash is from the future. Before he can be turned over to the police for attempting to buy tickets with the strange money, Charley rushes away, back through the twisted corridors, and finds himself back in his own time. But, he's determined to find the third level, again. He tells only one person, who is skeptical. And, then one day he finds a letter in his grandfather's collection, dated 1894 in Galesburg, Illinois.

"Such Interesting Neighbors" - Al and Nell have new next-door neighbors and there's something odd about the Hellenbeks. Everything they own is new but their stories about why they have only new clothing don't match up. Ted is excited about a particular book that he bought for only $3 but which could be work thousands, 140 years from now. Ann walks straight into a wooden door and Ted reminds her that doors don't open themselves and she'll have to get used to it. Are the Hellenbeks from a future world?

"Cousin Len's Wonderful Adjective Cellar" - 'Cellar', in this case, is a receptacle and the adjective cellar is at first thought to be a salt cellar. Cousin Len's cellar adds adjectives to the writings of anyone nearby. An extremely clever and amusing story that turns out to be a valuable writing lesson, as well.

Another favorite story, "Second Chance", tells about people from another world, where everything is sunlight and flowers, happiness and health. The hero of the story is told where he can go to acquire a ticket to this world, but he'll only have a single chance and if he blows it that chance is gone forever.

Highly recommended - Although it's not the easiest book to find, if you like short stories that are glimpses of other worlds or hint at the paranormal, you should try to get your mitts on a copy of The Third Level. It's thought-provoking and wondrous, and the fact that Finney died decades ago means the present world as he describes it is itself a world of our past. I always feel transported to another world even in the most common of Jack Finney's stories. And, all are written with skill. "Cousin Len's Wonderful Adjective Cellar" is a fine example of what a pro Finney was.

©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, December 11, 2018

A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle (The Duke's Den #1)

When Nicholas Lyon's father rejected him, he did so in an extraordinarily painful way. Now, years later, Nick is the owner of a successful gambling establishment and happy to strip the wealthy of their holdings when they lose at his tables. But, then disaster strikes. His brother is killed in an accident and Nick inherits his family's ducal holdings. Nick has never planned to return to his childhood home; it only holds terrible memories for him. But, as the Duke of Tremayne, Nick is responsible for his family's estate, Enderley Castle, the home he and his mother escaped many years ago.

When Nick arrives at Enderley, he intends to only remain at the castle long enough to sell off many of the valuables in preparation for leasing it out while he returns to his London home. He's not expecting to find that the steward of the estate is a trouser-wearing woman with a similar need for order. As he gets to know his steward, Mina Thorne, Nick is surprised to find himself dragging his feet and even enjoying his ability to improve the lives of his tenants. But, Nick was traumatized by his father's abuse. Will he be able to overcome the pain of his past?

Recommended to a specific audience - I read A Duke Changes Everything for the change of pace (thanks to a slumpy couple of months) and I was not disappointed. I thought it was surprising how quickly the duke softened, but the author managed to characterize him as a man with a softening heart and yet still retain the challenge of dealing with his childhood trauma while he was slowly falling in love with his steward. And, there were plenty of little surprises. There was one scene in particular that I felt was more authentic to what I'd expect of the time period than what you often find in historical romance. There were a couple historical anachronisms, but that scene helped to balance things out a bit and, anyway, I just enjoyed the reading. Mina is a likable character and the way Nick's heart is softened by doing good makes sense to me. And, the ending is incredibly satisfying.

My thanks to Avon Books for this unexpected gift. The next in the series is going to be the story of one of Nick's gambling business partners and I found him very appealing so I hope to read the next in the series, as well.

©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, December 10, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Freefall by Jessica Barry - from HarperCollins for review

Just one arrival but it looks like a good one. I may read it next, just because I'm still reading so slowly and Freefall is described as fast-paced. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle

I thought a romance would do exactly what I'm hoping Freefall will. No luck. I'm enjoying my reads but just not reading at my normal pace. It's frustrating but I'm trying to just roll with it. I did enjoy the romance break and am looking forward to a second one as I have a Vivienne Lorret book on the stacks, Ten Kisses to Scandal, and I love her romance novels.

Currently reading:

  • Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans

After watching the movie, Their Finest, I decided I needed to get around to reading the book and, sure enough, it's even better than the movie, although I enjoy reading about Catrin (who is writing "slop" or women's dialogue, for propaganda films during WWII) more than I enjoy reading about Ambrose Hilliard, the aging actor who is frustrated by his shrinking roles. I think the American printing is entitled Their Finest rather than Their Finest Hour and a Half to match the movie, but I'm not 100% certain about that. My copy is an older, secondhand book. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

Our Christmas tree has been up since Thanksgiving but it remained undecorated until this weekend, when our future daughter-in-law came over to hang out with Kiddo. Husband turned on Christmas music, Kiddo pulled out the ornaments, and DIL got to work on the tree. And, then she made brownies! I think we'll keep her.

We went to a high school choir festival called Singe Feste (they hilariously went way overboard adding e's to the words in their program). It was a Medieval play along with singing of course, a meal, and wassail for toasting. We were served by choir members dressed as serfs.

We didn't watch anything notable on TV. More Hallmark movies, a couple older films (including War Games, which is still relevant 30 years after it was released), the Dr. Who finale. On Wednesday, I watched part of George H.W. Bush's funeral but not all of it. I came in a little late. Most of what I watched this week was already on and I just returned to the beginning of the movies currently playing. I do love that about streaming, the ability to return to the beginning of a movie that's already playing.

©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, December 08, 2018

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Bathtub portrait

Once again, waiting for a drink. Bathtubs make excellent portrait backgrounds!

©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, December 07, 2018

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet by S. O'Leary and J. Grant

Alligators think you'd like them if you got to know them. 
Bears sometimes want their mothers to kiss it better. 
Chipmunks love to stay up past bedtime. 

If I had to choose a single word to describe Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet, it would be "unique", since unusual is already in the title (that's just cheating). Each page or spread contains a single letter, upper and lower case, and a sentence about an animal. They're ridiculous, which is what makes the book such a delight -- that and the illustrations, which are lovely and charming with a bright, white background. I photographed my favorite spread because it made me laugh:

You can probably click to enlarge the image but in case that doesn't work, it says:

Zebras would like to be first. Just once.

Ha! I love it. I wish I could run this one by my eldest granddaughter (I have two, now!) because I'm sure she'd get a kick out of it and I'd love to watch her face light up.

Recommended - A cute, funny, unique, delightful ABC book with charming, often humorous illustrations. I'm a big fan of the mildly muted but colorful palette on a white background. That must be an aesthetic I'm drawn to because I recall gushing over a few other books with the illustrations on plain white backgrounds. Some have a scene that includes sky and foreground but which is then given a cut-and-paste look on white. If I didn't happen to be a purist I'd say this is a great book from which to cut out pages for framing (but that would drive me nuts -- I like my books bound, not in pieces).

My thanks to Random House for the review copy.

©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, December 05, 2018

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Willa Knox and her Greek-American husband, Iano, have worked hard their entire adult lives. Maybe too hard, as their daughter Tig feels like she was slighted and their son Zeke seems to be following in their footsteps, leaving the care of his baby to Willa and Tig after a tragic loss. After Iano lost his tenure and their home its value when his college employer shut down, they've been forced to move into a dilapidated house in Vineland, New Jersey they've inherited. The home was not built right in the first place and the best option is to tear it down and build a new home on the property. But, they simply don't have the money. Desperate to find a way to come up with the money to repair the property, journalist Willa goes to the local historical society in the hope of finding historical occupants who may lead to grant money for preservation of the home.

In the 1880s, science teacher Thatcher Greenwood has recently moved into the home his wife's father built, along with his new wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and their two dogs. While tracking down the dogs one day, he discovers that his next-door neighbor is a botanist of some reknown who corresponds with Charles Darwin and Asa Gray. As he gets to know his neighbor, Thatcher discovers they share a belief in the same scientific framework proposed by Darwin. But Thatcher is frustrated by his inability to use his understanding in his classroom. The town was built to be utopian but based on strict biblical interpretation. Darwin's theory of evolution offends those in charge. While the poorly-built house is falling apart around them, Thatcher feels the pressure of trying to keep the home together, satisfy his wife's yearning for a better life, and figure out how to work around the principal's strict teaching requirements. But, then a murder forces him to put his beliefs on display and risks his job prospects.

I'm not sure I did an adequate job of describing the parallel plots in Unsheltered but you can look up the publisher's description somewhere else if you desire to learn more about the book. The bottom line is that both stories take place within the same house, a structure so poorly built that even the first family that lived in it had to deal with the fact that it was basically crashing down around them and had to constantly be patched up. Both the Greenwoods and Willa's family are in dire straits financially and have challenges within the family -- clashing personalities, slightly overwhelming responsibilities. The contemporary story is told from Willa's perspective and the historical from Thatcher's, both being the people who have the most responsibility to balance.

Unsheltered is atypical for this type of story. Most of those that I've read contain more of a connecting thread that a single, physical object (the house) and they tend to be a bit lighter, stylistically. Kingsolver's books have a laudable depth. But, in her search for a meaningful historical connection to find money for home repairs, Willa glimpses the unique friendship and the surprising historical tale that take place in the second storyline, so there is some crossover. It's just a little more tentative than most I've read. While I was intrigued by the science end of the story, I think I spent more time wondering how on earth both families were going to deal with the disastrous house and the family issues. The science conversations felt like a bit of a reprieve from the rest.

Through the tale of their collapsing house, Kingsolver touches on all sorts of topics like American healthcare, scientific methodology, the balance of work and home life in parenting, climate change, politics. She never uses the name of our current president but the contemporary story takes place during the election season and it's clear who she's referring to when she speaks of the Bullhorn. Willa's irascible father-in-law, Nick, has similar traits to the candidate.

Recommended - Both engrossing and educational (much of the historical portions are based on real-life characters and events), I really enjoyed Unsheltered. My only complaint would have to be the occasional philosophical arguments between Tig (whose name I correctly guessed is short for Antigone) and Willa. I found them a bit of a yawn. Some may find the book a bit on the preachy side but Kingsolver's books usually bring up environmental issues so that's nothing new. If you're offended by people nattering on about saving the planet, you might find it frustrating. I'm a closet environmentalist so I did not. The writing style is lovely and sharp. I'm always impressed by Kingsolver's writing.

©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, December 04, 2018

Lottery by Patricia Wood

I first wrote this review of Lottery by Patricia Wood in November of 2007 and didn't realize I had never republished it on my blog (it was originally published at The Estella Collective) until I wrote my review of Cupidity, also by Patricia Wood, and couldn't find the review to link up to. So, this is an older review, republished to get it onto my blog. It's worth reprinting because the book is phenomenal; it was short-listed for the Orange Prize and I've been craving a reread, thanks to Cupidity. See also, my review of Cupidity by Patricia Wood

The man chews his cigar, looks at his watch, squeezes his fender, and talks to Gary, all at the same time. “I need to get to the San Juans . . . Friday Harbor . . . Three weeks vacation . . . Can we speed this up?” he asks. “I need to get going.” He looks at his watch, again.

Vacations are when you stop being in a hurry to go to work and start being in a hurry to go someplace else.
Lottery is the story of Perry L. Crandall, a caring and sensitive man with an IQ of 76. The L in his name, his Gram tells him, stands for “Lucky”. When Perry proves his luck by winning the Washington State Lottery, suddenly his life changes dramatically. People who were unwilling to look him in the eye now boldly ask him for money, the family members who ignored him suddenly become concerned about his well-being and clerks treat him with obsequiousness during shopping trips. But, will Perry be able to handle his windfall or is the fact that he’s slower than average likely to become his undoing?
Because Lottery is written from Perry’s point of view, there’s a simplicity and power to the story. The reader knows how Perry thinks and what’s important to him, feels the pain of condescension and insult, becomes angry at the way people speak within his hearing, assuming that he’s unable to translate their plots to take advantage of him. There’s an immediacy to the story, a feeling that one must keep rapidly turning the pages because Perry is such a delightful character that the reader absolutely must know what’s going to occur. 

In fact, Perry has difficulty remembering and understanding certain concepts, but throughout the reading of Lottery the reader gains an understanding of how meaningless an intelligence quotient really is. Perry has his own brand of wisdom and is intelligent in many ways. His translations of the implication within spoken words reflects an ability to observe and reason. Because he reads from a dictionary and takes notes, each day, Perry develops a deeper comprehension of words and their varying definitions than most of the people around him.

When the story opens, Perry has been working at Holsted’s Marine Supply in Everett, Washington for many years. His late grandfather taught him to sail and Perry knows boats and their requirements better than the other employees and often even his boss; his Gram spouts bits of wisdom and bolsters his self-confidence. When she thinks he’s out of line, she says, “Don’t be smart.” Friends Keith and Gary -- Perry’s fellow employee and employer -- along with his Gram, treat him with the respect that nobody else offers him. 

By the time Perry wins the lottery, the reader is intimately acquainted with Perry, enough to know which of his acquaintances are true friends and who will steal from him if given the chance. What the reader doesn’t know is how Perry will handle the threats and opportunities around him. 

Even while I was madly turning pages as I read this novel -- a book that I could barely stand to put down the night I began reading and snatched up the moment I had time to read, the next day -- I feared that the predictable course would unfold. Perry is a warm, generous and kind-hearted character that you can’t help but root for and fall in love with. It’s only natural to want the best to happen and to fear the fate that seems inevitable when his family swoops in and attempts to fleece him.

To avoid spoiling the novel, I can only say that the entire book was full of pleasant surprises, cringe-inducing moments, smiles and tears. Lottery is an involving book -- emotional on many levels. I laughed, I cried, I loved Lottery. Since I closed the book, nearly two weeks ago, I’ve observed that I often hear Perry’s voice when I see something awe-inspiring and remember his oft-repeated words, “That is so cool!”

In the author’s introductory note, she describes the background of Lottery and her “need to write a compelling story that people will listen to, remember, and learn from.” Did she succeed? Absolutely. Perry L. Crandall is a character I plan to revisit, both for his and his Gram’s unique brand of wisdom. Is the novel compelling? Definitely. Did I learn from the story? No doubt about it. Author Patricia Wood succeeded on all levels and I hope that she’ll publish a second novel very soon.

©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, December 03, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet by S. O'Leary and J. Grant - from Random House for book tour
  • Adventurers Against Their Will by Joanie Holzer Schirm and 
  • The Plots Against Hitler by Danny Orbach - both purchased and both WWII
  • The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson - from HarperCollins for review
  • Ten Kisses to Scandal by Vivienne Lorret - from Avon Books for review

The two WWII books were bought on a whim because The National WWII Museum had a sale for Black Friday. I have no excuse other than my love of reading anything and everything about WWII.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets by Sara O'Leary and Jacob Grant

Currently reading:

  • A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle

Yep, just one book going, at the moment. I wouldn't say I'm in a reading slump, but I'm reading awfully slowly and not as many pages per day as I normally do. My new addiction to The Hallmark Channel may be partially to blame. I keep staying up later than normal, watching gushy romantic movies. I love them. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

While I'm still watching a gazillion Hallmark movies, Husband is "all Hallmarked out," so I've lost my movie buddy. Bummer. Honestly, I'm surprised I've lasted as long as I have. My tolerance for cheesy movies is normally pretty low and the duplication of the same elements is . . . just, wow. There's always a dead parent. Always. If someone lies, the other person is going to say, "The only thing I can't stand is dishonesty" (future Black Moment, you have just shown your hand). And, if there's already a boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture, he or she will be so clearly wrong for our hero or heroine that we are almost obliged to shout, "He's not right for you!" from the sofa. Seriously, they are so much fun to watch, those Hallmark movies. So far, my all-time favorite is The Nine Lives of Christmas because cats. Of course.

Holiday decorating is going slowly, but I got the mantel finished. My holiday mantel decorations are never the same, two years in a row. That's mostly because I forget what I've done (and often can't find the decorations used last year, even if I remember) but this year Target gave me my idea when I came across their little bottle-brush trees: $3 for the large ones; $1 for the small size. I made a little forest of those colorful trees at one end of the mantel and found a light-up house to put at the other. I got a little car with a tree on top and trailer (ornaments, technically, but they fit together) and put them about 1/3 of the way down from the house. So, the mantel tells a story:

The Schwarz family (because the house is from F. A. O. Schwarz) went to Grandma and Grandpa's for Thanksgiving. They took their trailer because Grandma and Grandpa only have one spare room. The kids stayed in the trailer, of course, since it feels more like an adventure. On the way home, the Schwarzes stopped at the tree farm (at left) and the display on the mantel shows them about to arrive home (on the right). 

Because what's the point of decorating if it's not entertaining, right?

The pinkish tinge is caused by some funky lightbulbs Huzzybuns bought. He's having fun entertaining himself, too.

©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.