Friday, March 27, 2020

Fiona Friday - Current mood

©2020 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 26, 2020

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

A little background on the purchase of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, up front. I started out reading a different novel about a black woman and her son whose father was white for Black History Month and then a friend who'd just read it said, "Read this instead," about Such a Fun Age. She didn't say that to me, personally; it was just a general announcement that she'd read both and one story was more authentic than the other, in her opinion, which she made on Facebook.

I was already reading the one she thought was the lesser and enjoying it but not far into it at the time of my friend Amy's post. She said the difference between the two was night and day, that the one written by a white woman didn't have the ring of authenticity but Such a Fun Age, by a black woman, does. I thought it would be fun to compare the two as Amy had, so I bought a copy of Such a Fun Age. I'm not mentioning the title of the other one because it eventually became a DNF and I can't find it to quote from. I figure I shouldn't pick on the author for no good reason if I can't point out the specific problem I had with it.

At any rate, I bought a copy of Such a Fun Age because I trust Amy. Then, about 1/3 of the way into the other book, there was a sentence that I found offensive and inaccurate about the son having both black and white genetics and mostly looking black but he didn't have to worry about his blackness because he lived this cushy middle-class life. That may have been disproven in the story, but by that point I was frustrated with the characters. They felt more like caricatures than well-rounded humans to me and I just couldn't buy into the storyline at all. It was frustrating me.

Finally, after about 5 days of reading for a little bit and then setting the book aside out of inattention, I decided to give up on it for good (I was a little more than halfway into it) and a few days later I started on Such a Fun Age, mostly out of curiosity due to Amy's thoughts but also because I saw Kiley Reid on Trevor Noah's show and she was utterly fascinating. She said she likes cringe-y scenes and I wanted to see if her book made me cringe.

On to the story . . .

Emira Tucker is 25, black, and has a bachelor's degree but she's a babysitter working for the very white and upper class Chamberlain family. She is aware that she should probably do something different; she's about to fall off her parents' insurance when she turns 26 and she's got skills. But, she's just not sure what she wants to do or how to go about it. She adores her little charge, Briar, who is precocious and a little hyper-sensitive. As much as she knows she should probably move on, she loves Briar as if she were her own and the idea of leaving her is unbearable. There's another child, a baby, but Briar's mom usually keeps the baby with her and ignores Briar.

Alix Chamberlain is a go-getter who is used to having everything her way. She married well and lives in a fabulous house but she's been thrown off-kilter by the family's move from New York City to Philadelphia. She misses her friends and her packed schedule. As an "influencer" she has built a huge following and she knows she can keep it up from her new home. But, the move has made her sluggish and she's so unsure about what her change of location will do to her brand that she's still pretending to work from New York. She has a book deal but that's going nowhere, as well. And, then her world is upended when her babysitter is accused of kidnapping Briar.

The inciting incident in this book happens when a window is broken in the Chamberlain home because Alix's newscaster husband said something that's been construed as offensive (he claims he didn't mean it the way it's being taken). Alix calls Emira, who is dressed for a party, and asks her to take Briar away from the house until the police have left. It's while Emira's out with Briar at a grocery store that someone accuses her of kidnapping the child. There, she also meets a man named Kelley, whom she begins to date, eventually. But, there's something weird about both the way Alix and Kelley treat Emira, like she's some sort of token they should be proud of.

Highly recommended - I love how realistic Such a Fun Age feels. The characters ring true to me in a way that makes me feel both uncomfortable and, at the same time, nod along at how much I can relate to various aspects I'd rather not relate to. I understand, for example, what it's like to be an adult who feels like you're not doing adulthood right, that you ought to be doing something else, earning better money, finding your place in the world. That unsettled feeling that Emira has . . . I don't have that anymore, but I remember it well. My plans were rocked off their foundation when I was quite young and it took me a very long time to figure things out.

There were brief moments that I wanted the story to move a little faster and I never did buy that the object thrown into the Chamberlains' window would have broken the window unless there was already some damage to the glass, but Such a Fun Age tackles some subtle acts of racism in a powerful way and it's just a good story. And, yes, it did make me squirm a time or two.

I think it's worth mentioning that while I bought Such a Fun Age with Black History Month in mind, I'd heard a lot about it and probably would have bought it eventually, regardless of the time of year. I also thought it would be a great book for discussion and may mention it to my F2F group leader when I return to meetings (which, I presume will be suspended till the pandemic is under control).

©2020 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 23, 2020

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Until she was eighteen, Rose Gold Watts thought she was extremely sick. She was tiny and weak, needed a wheelchair, couldn't keep food down, and went with her mother from doctor to doctor seeking answers. Then, someone helped her figure out what was going on. Her mother was making her sick. Patty Watts was a good actor. She was persuasive, an inveterate and skilled liar. She preyed on the weaknesses of others, even doctors, slyly suggesting possible ailments and quickly disappearing when a doctor became suspicious.

Patty went to prison for 5 years for abusing her daughter. Now, she's been released. Rose Gold is the only person she can possibly stay with. Their relationship has improved, recently, and Rose Gold now has a baby. She's more mature now and willing to take her mother in, although she has a few strange habits that Patty doesn't understand.

Rose Gold has had a hard time adjusting to adulthood, having missed out on her childhood and interaction with others. In flashbacks, slowly moving forward through time to when Patty is released from prison, the reader finds out what's happened to Rose Gold during the time her mother's been imprisoned. And, in alternating chapters, the tension builds as Patty plots her revenge and observes her daughter's weak points.

Throughout Rose Gold, Patty slowly worms her way back into Rose Gold's affections. But, what is Rose Gold up to? Why does she lock her door, even when she leaves the house? Is Rose Gold what she appears to be?

Highly recommended - The only reason I didn't give Rose Gold 5 stars (I gave it 4) is because there are so many yucky people in the book. Occasionally I found myself wishing someone, somewhere would do something kind and good for Rose Gold and eventually that happens, but even the nicer characters have their bad side. That made it a slightly squirmy, uncomfortable read.  Both characters are unreliable in their own ways, though, and that unreliability really made the pages fly. Rose Gold is an "I just have to know what will happen" kind of book, so very compelling and gripping. Even though it's clear that Patty was making Rose Gold ill and deserved her jail sentence, her internal monologue is confusing enough to cast doubt. Squirmy or not, Rose Gold was wonderfully tense and the ending is incredibly satisfying. Read this one when you're ready for a fast-paced, creepy and suspenseful read.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!

©2020 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 Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen - purchased
  • The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless - from HarperCollins for review
  • Regretting You by Colleen Hoover,  
  • Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker, and 
  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King - all purchased
  • Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert - sent by author
  • The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey - from Berkley Books for review
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - purchased

Most of these were purchases, as you can see. I briefly threw aside my book-buying ban to buy a few books from an indie bookstore to do my small part to help them survive the pandemic (The Dutch House and Writers and Lovers; I also pre-ordered The Paris Hours by Alex George from the store).

Devil Darling Spy was a "quick, must buy this book I'm dying to read before I reinstate the ban" thing. Orphan Monster Spy (first in the series) was a favorite in 2018 so the follow up is one of my recent most-wished-for books. Lakeshire Park is a book I was going to receive from the publisher but when COVID-19 hit the Shadow Mountain press office and they had to isolate, I opted to go ahead and buy my own copy rather than read an e-galley because I really do hate e-books that much. I hope everyone at Shadow Mountain is doing well.

Unflappable is one of those rare books I accepted from an author. I still remember Flyaway (a book about working in wildlife rehab) well so I was thrilled when author Suzie Gilbert asked if I'd like to read her first novel. Regretting You was an impulse purchase that I threw in the cart when I saw that it was on sale. I have a lot of Instagram friends who are crazy about Colleen Hoover's writing and I've been eager to give her a try. After I bought the book, I discovered that I have an e-book by Hoover, but as often as I read e-books I'm glad I bought a paperback of a different title.

And, now I'm back on the book-buying ban so the "recent arrivals" category may eventually sputter away. The only book offers I've gotten recently have been e-galleys, which makes sense during a time of pandemic. It may just be time for me to focus on what's on the shelves.

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton
  • Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Just two finished, although I tried to participate in the Stay at Home 24 in 48 Challenge. It ended up being more of a Stay at Home 3 in 24 but that was enough for me. I managed to sneak off for a few hours to read Darling Rose Gold and that meant I was able to finish a book on Saturday. No effort went into readathoning at all on Sunday.

Currently reading:

  • Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

I want to focus on Nature's Best Hope for a bit because it's just been sitting on the bedside table for a couple of weeks so I didn't start a new fiction title last night. I do hope to add a fiction title tonight, though, and I'm leaning toward Flamebringer by Elle Katharine White, the third in the Heartstone series.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Not much TV watching apart from the news, again, but we did watch most of Earth Girls Are Easy, just for a silliness break. Eventually, I realized neither of us were paying attention to it and we turned it off, then later we checked PBS and Little Women was on. I watched 2 hours of Little Women but was dismayed to find that they were airing 3 episodes in a row. That was too much for me so I skipped the 3rd episode and went to soak in the tub. I'm not a big Jimmy Fallon fan but I've been enjoying streaming the home version of his late show and wow, his house is amazing. I want a house with a slide in it.

I've also been watching every funny musical anything rewritten with coronavirus lyrics and I enjoyed part of Keith Urban's concert from a warehouse with Nicole Kidman dancing around him. But, I seem to have almost no patience with TV or movies, at the moment. My attention span is totally shot.

I'm currently watching videos and reading lessons in a Coursera course (free online) about COVID-19 that's being taught by the Imperial College of London because I prefer hearing from actual scientists over politicians. I've totally given up watching the briefings from the White House because the president still is unwilling to let the experts do all the talking and much of what he says turns out to be inaccurate. Even knowing how bad he is at telling the truth, I was finding that I would believe something he said and then find corrections online. It's just not worth it to watch the daily stream of disinformation and the insults. It's also very frustrating when he cuts off reporters and starts a rambling attempt at distraction before they've finished their questions. However, I think Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings are worth listening to as he focuses on facts and action.

Since a lot of people are reading pandemic novels, I would like to recommend one that's relatively new and which I recently reviewed, A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen (link leads to my review). I'm considering rereading it to see it from a different perspective. It's set in a post-pandemic world with flashbacks to the pandemic and a new wave of the disease coming on. I'm finding Chen's imagination was accurate in some ways that I didn't expect it to be. For example, most everyone has a case of post-pandemic trauma, much like PTSD but specifically related to the horror of living through a pandemic. This is really not something I would have imagined but I know many of my friends are stressed, sleepless, having difficulty concentrating and anxiety attacks. Some are having nightmares. I had a strange dream about being really excited to find a giant loaf of wheat bread in the grocery store (about 2 times the size of a normal loaf) while in that same dream I was also terrified to find that too many people were in the store and they weren't keeping a safe distance, a couple nights ago. It's a dream that came straight from the reality that we only had 4 slices of bread left.

On the plus side, I've noticed that cooking together has become a common family activity amongst my friends and that those who have flour on hand are baking their own bread. We have a nice fresh loaf in our kitchen. I've found a place to get eggs and some fresh veggies without going to the grocery store (no new source for milk or butter but we're looking) via a weekly produce box at a local farm. We've planted lettuce, strawberries, herbs, and tomatoes. The squirrels usually eat everything edible that we plant but it's worth a try. And, the pandemic seems to be helping me finally stop drinking soda pop because I only have a handful of sodas left, which I'm rationing. There is much good coming of this horror.

Wishing everyone safety and health and praying for those who are working hard in healthcare, grocery stores, and other places where people are exposed to the public.

©2020 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 20, 2020

Fiona Friday - Window Izzy

It's almost like she's looking back, thinking of when life was normal, but life is about the same for our cats. They still rush to the door to beg for bits of grass when I return from the mailbox, still think I should put cereal in their bowls every time I go to the kitchen, still holler at me if I'm doing housework when they went me to sit with them while they nap. They don't notice that I open the mail then set it outside in the sunshine to air out, wipe down the doorknobs on both sides of the door, and then wash my hands. Life in the Time of COVID-19 is challenging but we'll get through this. Wishing health to all my readers.

©2020 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 19, 2020

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

I bought my copy of Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on the advice of my friend Alyce using the last of the Amazon card she sent me (thanks, Alyce!) It's the story of an American president's son, Alex, and a British prince named Henry who fall in love. But, it's election season and the president's campaign could be thrown into disarray if their romance becomes public knowledge.

One thing I loved about Red, White and Royal Blue was that Alex doesn't actually realize he's bisexual. Is this plausible? I think so. Societal expectations can convince us we're something we're not. At any rate, Alex has dated women. One of his best friends is a former flame and the two of them will occasionally pretend to be an item just to toy with the press. He had one brief, gay interaction in the past that he thought nothing of. Now, it's become apparent to him that he is not just a fan of the prince but massively attracted to him.

Another thing I loved was the fact that the president is a divorced woman. Now, there we seriously sink into fantasy territory because America does not forgive women for having any flaws at all. Husband had an affair? It's the woman's fault. Stay with him? What's wrong with you, woman? Leave him? You made vows before God and you're breaking them. And, we know any flaw at all is enough to keep a woman from the presidency. The author admitted that she chose to create a fantasy world that fit her own political desires.

There were a few things I didn't like, as well. The first half of Red, White and Royal Blue bored me a bit, I confess. It was cute. I liked the plotting around the romance itself, but there were too many sex scenes for my taste and not enough relationship building, in my humble opinion. I liked both the main and side characters a lot, though, and the dialogue is wonderful. And, the second half is meatier, about facing one's truth, how a family scandal can rock an election, whether or not being in an LGBTQ relationship should even be a scandal, the importance of family, the meaning of love, finding your place in the world (even if it means plans change), and how crucial it is to have people in your life who believe in you. Lots to think about.

Recommended - There was obviously plenty to love about Red, White and Royal Blue and in the end I was really quite moved. There's an impressive complexity to the story that isn't always something you see in romance, since it has that political side, and so many interconnecting themes about love and family and life. Plus, I enjoyed the humor.

©2020 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 18, 2020

And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton

First, a clarification before I review this book: I said And They Called It Camelot is a fictional biography about John and Jackie Kennedy, a couple days ago. That's not entirely accurate. As you can see from the words on the cover, it says And They Called It Camelot is a novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Most of the book, however, does cover her years with JFK. There's a little bit before she started dating him and then it focuses on what it was like to date a Kennedy with the presidency in his sights, deal with things like his back injuries and her miscarriages, and become a very young First Lady with two small children. Jackie's story is told in four parts and the fourth part is the shortest, skipping ahead, little by little, to the final chapter in 1977.

So, what did I think of this story? I liked the learning experience. I knew JFK was known for having multiple affairs. I knew Jackie had at least one miscarriage while she was First Lady and I think I was aware she'd had a couple of others. I didn't know the details, though — how often JFK left his wife for months, hanging out in Europe with other women; how many miscarriages Jackie had and how far along she was. These things were much more severe than I realized. It was also interesting getting a glimpse into events like the election and why people thought it unlikely JFK would win; learning about what was important to Jackie as First Lady and how her past job keeping an upscale home informed the way she remodeled the White House; reading about her life after the loss of her husband to an assassin. I learned a lot! That's what I loved best about the book. It's also a very smooth read.

The only things I didn't like about the book were more about preference and personal viewpoint than anything else. I'm increasingly finding that I have a great deal of difficulty suspending disbelief when it comes to fictional biographies. I'll skid to a halt thinking, "Would he or she really have thought this way?" or wondering if the dialogue is anywhere near reality. I still can enjoy a book with those questions running through my head, but I'm leaning toward reading more biographies that include primary source documents within the text, in the future. I know not every biography is 100% accurate because there's always a little bit of the author's or historian's viewpoint involved and some things can only be guessed at, but I'm finding I prefer to actually see the words of the people I'm reading about. Also, this book made me kind of hate JFK. I've long known of his affairs but seeing it through Jackie's eyes was immensely painful.

Recommended to a specific audience - I enjoyed And They Called It Camelot especially for the learning experience and particularly recommend it to anyone who has a fascination for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and/or those who enjoy historical fiction or historical biographies. While I'm back on a buying ban, And They Called It Camelot piqued my interest enough that I'd probably hop online and order some books about the Kennedys and the Sixties (always a favorite time period to read about, anyway) if I wasn't avoiding purchases.

Fun side effect of reading this book: There are quite a few descriptions of Jackie's outfits, events they attended, people they knew, the interior of the White House, etc. I spent a lot of time looking up photographs of those things. It always adds a little dimension when photos of the subject matter are readily available.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy of And They Called It Camelot!

©2020 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 17, 2020

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

Racism, as it has evolved in the history of the United States, has always involved a measure of criminalization so that it is not difficult to understand how stereotypical assumptions about Black people being criminals persist to this day. Racial profiling is an example. The fact that driving while Black can be dangerous. Recently, one of the trending Twitter conversations had to do with "criming while White." A whole number of white people wrote in and described crimes they had committed for which they were never suspected, and one person pointed out that he and a Black friend were arrested by the police for stealing a candy bar. The cop gave the white person the candy bar, and the Black person was eventually sentenced to prison. 

~pp. 33-34

I chose Freedom is a Constant Struggle as my read for Black History Month and I'm obviously a bit late getting around to talking about it so it's not as fresh in my mind as I'd like it to be, but I remember enough to say a few words about it.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle is a set of speeches and interviews about the intersection of racism in the U.S. and oppression in other countries. The author is a well-known activist who travels the world speaking about oppression, the history of oppression and ways in which large corporations contribute to the problem, why oppression is profitable, and how prison is used to oppress certain populations, among other things. She offers alternatives and ideas for change.

I like these words on what keeps Angela Davis going:

[...] I don't think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it's only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. 

~p. 49

One of the things Davis talks about quite a bit in Freedom is a Constant Struggle is the private prison system and how profit-making leads to a higher level of incarceration. I remember the Obama administration had started working on closing down private prisons for exactly that reason but I've since read that the current administration is doing the opposite, allowing for more private prisons and expanding their reach by using the same corporation(s) who run prisons to take on housing of immigrants. The book was published in 2016, so it's a little outdated in that regard but you can fill in the blanks of what's happened with a little reading up on the Internet. It's still got a lot of valuable information.

The only thing that I kept puzzling over was the fact that Davis is for banishing imprisonment entirely. As in no prisons, whatsoever. I kept thinking, "So, what do you do with the hard-core criminals, those who committed violent crimes?" That was not addressed and it's something I would love to ask the author, if I were given the opportunity to talk to her.

Highly recommended - A very thought-provoking book, worth reading and discussing. I was familiar with the name Angela Davis but I didn't realize she was a Black Panther, although it's clear from the reading that she's been an activist for a very long time. I'd actually love to read more about her. She is highly educated and I often found myself thinking, "This is just a bit above my intellectual level" but it's not at any point unbearably dry; it's very readable but with moments that required extra concentration. The reading made me want to get to my book about the Black Panther Party, which I also bought for last year's Black History Month. I may go ahead and read that, this year, if I can fit it in. I would also love to reread Freedom is a Constant Struggle with a group, some time. It's ripe for discussion.

©2020 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 16, 2020

Monday Malarkey - 2 weeks' worth of Malarkey

I have two stacks of books, this week,  because I decided to go ahead and let myself ditch the book-buying ban for the library sale (so cheap!) and then I trashed it entirely when we started our "social distancing" to help flatten the curve and try to get that COVID-19 virus under control. Part of my reasoning is that bookstores will need our help. So, with that in mind I'll be placing an order with an indie bookshop, tomorrow.

The last two weeks' arrivals, left to right:

  • Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey - purchased; pre-ordered
  • The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes - from Berkley Books for review
  • The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock - purchased; for plague reading
  • Ruthless by Sarah Tarkoff - unsolicited from Harper Voyager

Woman on the Edge is one that I pre-ordered before my book-buying ban and I'll save it for when I need something fast-paced. The Prisoner's Wife is a tour book and The Passing Bells was recommended by author Melanie Benjamin. Ruthless is the third in a series so I looked it up to see if it stands alone. Looks like the books need to be read in order so until/unless Harper Voyager is able to send me the first two books (one is currently out of stock), I will not be reading this one right away. But, it does sound like it's my kind of series.

And, my library sale purchases, left to right: 

  • Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales by Washington Irving
  • The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
  • The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories, ed. by D. Abbott and S. Koppelman

All of these were purchased on a day that I went over to see Kiddo and visited the perpetual book sale in the town where I used to live (Kiddo lives there, now, with his wife). He's been bored waiting to start work so I took him out to eat and then we went to the library sale and back to his apartment to hang out together for a while. It was fun and I'd do it more regularly if there wasn't a plague happening.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Promised by Leah Garriott
  • A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn

Currently reading: 

  • And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton
  • Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

The former is a fictionalized account of John and Jackie Kennedy, from the time they began dating. The latter hasn't been opened for a week. Much as I'm aching to read it, this was a crap reading week and I even had to finish a tour book review post a day late. Hopefully, this week will be better. I did have a problem with obsessing over the pandemic news, last week, but we're in "cancel everything" mode, now, so I feel a little less like I need to pay attention constantly to how the world is burning around me, although I'll check the news at least once a day.

The last two weeks' posts:

In other news:

We finished watching Doctor Who just after I saw a comment section in which die-hard fans argued about the fact that the ending of Jodie Whittaker's last episode, "The Timeless Children" (I don't know if this is her first or second season) was "not canon" and therefore they were never going to watch the show ever, ever again. I was fine with it but I'm a fan without being obsessed. I don't always like particular actors or episodes but I have my favorite Doctors (Tom Baker, of course, is my #1) and companions. I come and go. I thought the furor was kind of funny. I did think the previous episode was too frenetic. It exhausted me.

Otherwise . . . um, I don't remember what I watched. Mostly, I obsessed over the COVID-19 news, although I saw this coming a mile away and advised my Facebook friends to stock up on the kinds of things we normally get for hurricane season, weeks ago. So, when it came time for people to panic buy, we just needed a few things like eggs, bread, spinach, and coconut (for the Social Distancing cooking of coconut bars Huzzybuns did, yesterday). I only got enough for about 2 weeks but we have things in the fridge and freezer, of course, so we should be fine for a while. Huz still has to go in to work but I'm pretty much planning to cancel everything on my agenda.

And, wow, isn't this so much harder than you could have imagined? I think most of those of us who are doing the Social Distancing thing have been doing it for only a day or two. It really becomes immediately clear how often we just hop in the car to get out of the house, how important the gym is to the daily routine, how much it sucks that you really shouldn't go out to get any of those things you forgot on your final run to the store. But, I don't want us to become another Italy so I'm working hard at dealing with the little and big disappointments. The biggest: I was due to have my reconstruction surgery in a few weeks. It can wait for a long time, if necessary, but I was really looking forward to getting that over with. Ah, well. C'est la vie.

I hope everyone is well and enjoying some good reading time. There's a weekend Social Distancing Readathon happening, next weekend. Whether or not I participate will probably depend on if/when the husband starts teleworking. If we're successfully getting chores done during the week because he's not so tired from his commute, maybe he'll let me get away with a goof-off reading weekend. I could use some intense reading time, as slow as my reading's been, this year.

Happy reading and stay healthy, everyone!

©2020 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 14, 2020

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - I get on your lap, plz?

Fiona probably looks sad to the casual observer, but this is her pleading face. She was on the couch next to me, asking if she could climb onto my lap.

Posting this late because I'm glued to Coronavirus coverage, I confess. I'll try to be better. Everyone stay safe out there and if you're sticking close to home, helping to flatten the curve, I hope you manage to get in plenty of fun reading time!

©2020 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 12, 2020

A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell Mystery #5)

In A Murderous Relation, Veronica and Stoker have been called from Cornwall to London. One of Queen Victoria's grandchildren, Prince Eddy, is caught up in what could be a tremendous scandal. Veronica and Stoker are tasked with retrieving a gift given by Eddy, aka Prince Albert Victor, to someone of ill repute. Meanwhile, London is being terrorized by a vicious killer, not yet known as Jack the Ripper. Are the two related?

OK, confession. It's 1:00 AM and I have not finished A Murderous Relation, so I'll tell you what I think of it, so far, and then return to finish up, later.

I love the main characters, as I did in the first Veronica Speedwell book I read, A Dangerous Collaboration (#4 in the series). Veronica is smart, clever, and knowledgable. Stoker is a little more distant in this book than he was in the last and I'm finding his diminished role somewhat disappointing. But, every now and then he'll say something that makes me smile and I love the interaction between the two of them.

However . . . and this is a big however . . . I absolutely hate the setting of this book. A Dangerous Collaboration was set in a castle on an island off the coast of Cornwall and it was partly that setting that made the book so much fun. In A Murderous Relation, Veronica and Stoker are undercover to try to find the gift given to Aurore, the woman whose home is like a playground for perverts (she doesn't like to think of it as a brothel). And, that is so not my thing. I anticipated much less of the . . . scenery, I guess you could say? I didn't realize so much time would be spent on descriptions of people doing icky things. I'm finding that it creeps me out so thoroughly that I keep setting the book aside. I haven't decided whether or not I'll finish it, so I'm going to leave this review open-ended and report back on Friday. If I decide to abandon the book, I'll say so. If I continue, I'll finish with a recommendation line. I'm going to sleep on it.

Fiona Friday will be moved to Saturday to make room for my Friday update on the book.

I received a copy of A Murderous Relation from Berkley Books for review. Thanks! My apologies for the delayed ending to this review. I shall return.

UPDATE!!! UPDATE!!! UPDATE on Friday!!!

It's Friday morning and I made my decision to continue reading A Murderous Relation, yesterday, after sleeping on it. I decided I liked the characters too much to give up on them merely because of the location in which the storyline had ended up. And, I also figured they couldn't stay in the brothel, forever. Excellent decision! Not long after I began reading, Veronica and Stoker discover a body, try to escape from the brothel, and things get really exciting and tense (the way I like them). At that point, the pages began to fly. I don't want to give away any plot points but a character from a previous Veronica Speedwell book (which I have not read) shows up every bit as villainous as before but this time with an unexpected sidekick.

Highly recommended - If you are squeamish about scenes in a brothel, I recommend a little skimming to get past that bit, which went on longer than I was able to tolerate on Wednesday evening but ended quickly, after I picked the book up again. However, I wouldn't skip anything because the story builds on each incident and slowly becomes a little more complex than just rescuing a Prince from his self-made scandal by stealing a jewel. It also becomes much more dangerous, to the point at which the question becomes, "Will anyone get out of this alive?" And, then, other things happen. At any rate, there are some heart-pounding action scenes, which I love, and Stoker's role picked up enough to satisfy me. I closed the book thinking, "I need to go back to the beginning of the series." I like Veronica Speedwell and Stoker, the way they sort of spin around each other without landing (Will they? Won't they?), the vocabulary (always looking things up while reading this series, including photos of historical characters who make appearances), and the time period. Loads of fun and I'm so glad I returned to the book.

©2020 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 10, 2020

Promised by Leah Garriott

It's 1812 and Margaret Brinton is in search of a husband. To that end, she attends a matchmaking party where she hopes to find a match. But, Margaret doesn't plan to look for love. Instead, she is happy to find someone who will do his own thing and let her be. Margaret, you see, is a wounded soul. Once engaged to her next-door neighbor, she discovered that he was unfaithful several times over. A man with mistresses is fine by her, provided she knows what she's getting into. Edward's unfaithfulness was a shock, and she doesn't ever want to go through that again.

At the party, Margaret meets Mr. Northam and Lord Williams. Mr. Northam is a handsome rake. He will do nicely. But Northam's arrogant cousin, Lord Williams, is determined to keep them from becoming engaged. When she's very publicly insulted by Lord Williams and then a romantic moment with Mr. Northam is interrupted, Margaret and her brother Daniel have no choice but to return home. She will wait for Mr. Northam to visit. Then, perhaps, he will finish what Margaret is certain was an interrupted proposal.

But, then things go topsy-turvy. Margaret's parents have arranged her betrothal to none other than Lord Williams, the man who thwarted her happiness by making her a pariah at the matchmaking party, thanks to his insulting behavior. As Lord Williams becomes involved in her everyday life, though, Margaret finds that she's increasingly drawn to him. He is not at all what she originally thought. He is kind, steady, and determined to help Margaret and her family in any way. But, by the time Lord Williams leaves her family home, she's convinced him that she can never be his bride. Should Margaret try to salvage the blooming relationship she was determined to avoid? Or, should she go with her original plan and marry a rake to protect herself from further heartbreak?

Recommended - Promised was absolutely the right book for the moment, for me. While I did find Margaret's waffling about whether or not she was doing the right thing in thwarting Lord Williams' efforts to save her from Mr. Northam and her constant inner argument about whether or not she really was attracted to Lord William a little tedious, I liked the hero and heroine enough to root for the obvious ending (it's romance . . . obvious is good), which was definitely very satisfying. There are some very Jane Austen-like elements in Promised. While at first they felt a little done (as in been there, read that), that turned out to be inaccurate. There was plenty about Promised that was unique and surprising. I enjoyed it very much.

My thanks to Shadow Mountain and Laurel Ann of Austenprose Book Tours for the review copy!

Unrelated note: I missed posting my weekly Monday Malarkey due to circumstances beyond my control. Monday Malarkey will resume at its regular time, next week.

©2020 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 06, 2020

Fiona Friday - Droopy

©2020 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 04, 2020

Mini reviews - Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman, Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Time for mini reviews! Most of what I currently have left to review is from my home library, so I'm going to shift to mini reviews to get some of them knocked out. 

Alyce of At Home With Books (a dormant blog since 2016) very kindly sent me a copy of Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby (an Oatmeal book) by Matthew Inman and a gift card to buy more books when I was in desperate need of cheering up. I can't even begin to tell you what a huge upper that was. I am still so grateful for the laughs in a week that was mostly about crying and anxiety.

Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby is equal parts gross and hilarious. I was familiar with The Oatmeal comics but I guess I'd never really paid much attention to them. The gross ones involve a lot of illustrations of baby vomit and poop; they were not my favorites. But, there were plenty of comics that lacked the yuck factor and made me laugh, especially the ones specifically about cats. I shared my absolute favorites with the Spousal Unit and he enjoyed them, too.

Recommended but may require a strong stomach - I have a pretty strong stomach, I guess. I did have babies, after all, and the gross part goes with the territory. If you love The Oatmeal, you'll love this book.

I used part of the Amazon card Alyce sent me to buy a copy of Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, a book that's been on my wish list, for a while. I absolutely love Strange Planet comics, little 4-box comics in which aliens make sense of life on Earth.

Deb Nance of Readerbuzz put it this way: "What if we could look at our world through fresh, if alien, eyes?" That's what Nathan Pyle does in Strange Planet. I'll share the comic that first caught my attention, below. I love the way Pyle examines humanity through slightly different viewpoint, the language making a lot of the strangeness of our lives clear. On the lower left cover of the book, an alien proudly shows off his sunburn saying, "It's the star damage." In one comic I read off Pyle's Instagram, a few days ago, the aliens were ordering pizza (I forget their name for pizza) and I laughed at one of them shouting out, "More fungus slices!"

Here's the comic that made me fall in love with Strange Planet:

Highly recommended - Loads of laughs and a huge upper. I will read this many times, in the future, I'm sure. So grateful to have a copy in my home library.

I love Connie Willis but I'd never heard of Crosstalk till recently. It sounded like my kind of book so I bought a copy.

When Briddey Flannigan and her boyfriend, Trent, get a procedure that's supposed to help them connect emotionally, it has a shocking side effect. Briddey (short for Bridget) becomes telepathic. At first, she can only hear one other voice. But, eventually, her telepathy becomes stronger and the thoughts coming from other people's heads overwhelm her. With the help of C.B., the first man she heard upon coming telepathic and a co-worker of hers, she learns to block the chaos. C.B. is weird. He's brilliant but he works in the basement and stays away from people. And, Briddey is in love with Trent. So, why is she finding herself so drawn to C.B.?

When Trent begins to show signs of telepathy and Briddey finds out his real reason for wanting to get the procedure, things go haywire.

Recommended to sci-fi fans - Not Willis's best but a fun read. In comparison to past works by Connie Willis, Crosstalk comes closest to Bellwether. Both are light, funny, romantic, and silly, even a little slapstick. Both have sci-fi attributes but Crosstalk didn't entirely make sense to me. I got the telepathy but not the idea of harnessing it via technology. I just couldn't buy into that concept. And, it was a bit too long, but I enjoyed Crosstalk enough to keep going and I have no regrets.

©2020 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 03, 2020

Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul

Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul is an unusual book and I love it for that. An incredibly silly tale about a little monster who doesn't want to eat anything offered to him, it's written entirely in gibberish and yet still totally comprehensible. "Nerp," for example, is obviously "nope". I think it's easier to show illustrations, in this case, so I took a couple interior photos:

Pardon my poor job of cropping. You can see how, even though there's no such thing in reality as "frizzle frazzle hotchy potch," it's clear that it's a food item and the little monster is saying, "No way. I'm not eating that."

The unnamed little guy is offered dish after dish after dish, all with hilarious names, and turns them all down. Then, as the determined parents walk into the room with two more dishes to try to persuade him (or her) to eat, they hear a lengthy slurp and find their little monster has chosen to eat something . . . unusual. But, they're happy the kiddo is eating.

Highly recommended - I had a huge grin on my face while I read this book and I know absolutely without question that my eldest granddaughter would be doubled over in peals of laughter if she was close enough to read it to her. Actually, she's reading on her own, now. She might need a little help with the nonsense language, but I'll bet she'd have a blast reading it between the giggle fits. I love it that an entire book is told in gibberish and yet still completely clear of meaning. And, the illustrations are absolutely perfect. So expressive. You know immediately how that little monster feels. So. Much. Crazy. Fun.

My thanks to Sterling Children's Books for the review copy. Nerp! has just been released, today! Cool. If you have a little picky-eating monster (or even if you don't), you should rush right out to get this one. The giggles will be worth every penny.

©2020 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 02, 2020

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow - from Tor (Macmillan) for review via Shelf Awareness
  • Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo - purchased

Yes, I finally broke my month-long book-buying ban for Children of the Land. After Adam of Roof Beam Reader recommended it, I added Children of the Land to my wish list and then kept thinking about it because it sounded exactly like the kind of book I've been seeking. So, I gave in. But, I went right back to not buying, after.

A Song Below Water is an exciting arrival, too. I love both of the covers. So eye-catching!

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin
  • Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul

And, I finished up the month of February with 10 books read, again. This has been a disappointing year, so far, but while 10 books is below average for me, I acknowledge that it's not awful; I'm not in a reading slump, just sluggish by comparison with the usual reading rate. I have had to frequently pep-talk myself about this.

Currently reading:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

The nonfiction read I started last week wasn't doing it for me, so I moved on to Nature's Best Hope. I'm not very far into it but my little nature-crazy, tree-hugging, greenie inner self is loving it. It's about how individuals can create their own healthy little ecosystems at home to encourage natural life and how crucial the variety of life on Earth is to human survival. I also started reading The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich but then set it aside to read Such a Fun Age after Kiley Reid appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Last week's posts: 

I missed two fiction favorites so I'll put them in a future post with favorites from some other category (nonfiction, children's, whatever I get to). Or, maybe I'll post about them separately. Waffle, waffle.

In other news:

I forgot to watch Chicago Fire on Wednesday! Completely forgot. So bummed. There were a couple nights that we just vegged on news and we watched two episodes of Doctor Who, but that's about it for TV. It always surprises me to realize how little TV I watch, when I do these updates.

Kiddo's car is sputtering, so we went over to his apartment for Huzzybuns to give it a drive around the block, this weekend. Yep, it needs to go into the shop. We all went out for Mexican food, after, and it was fabulous. Veggie fajitas! I have a new favorite. Our local Mexican place is going sharply downhill (they've stopped giving you guacamole and pico de gallo with your fajitas and cut back on the quantity of all the other ingredients but bumped the price up $2) and we lost our Tex-Mex chain restaurant, so I guess we'll drive 30 miles when we want to go out. Fortunately, we don't go out for Mexican food very often.

This week was also the first week I've managed to go to the gym regularly since pre-surgery. I bought a Fitbit to help motivate myself. It's working. I'm a wimp, right now, but I managed to gradually increase my workout during the week. One step at a time.

©2020 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, February 28, 2020

Fiona Friday - What we're reading

©2020 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, February 27, 2020

The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin

Rooney was about a thousand years old and still regarded women through a prehistoric filter where you told them the way it was going to be and they said, "Yes, dear," and went to iron some socks. 

~p. 171

In The Antidote for Everything, Georgia Brown is a urologist and a bit of a rebel with her nose ring and discreet tattoos. Jonah, her best friend, fellow doctor, and the man she considers her only family, is gay and a little flamboyant with a tendency to sink into the occasional deep depression. As The Antidote for Everything opens, Georgia gets unwelcome news during a surgery and there are hints that something is amiss with Jonah. Then, Georgia flies off to Amsterdam and, after saving a life on the plane, finds herself madly attracted to her patient and having a nice little European fling.

When she returns, Georgia realizes that things are even worse than she suspected. Jonah's transgender patients, some of whom are her patients as well, are being told they can no longer be treated at the clinic and the administrators are trying to find a way to get rid of Jonah, as well. In fact, it looks like they may have grounds for firing him. Is there any way Georgia can help Jonah salvage his job and restore their transgender patients to their healthcare providers? Is it really legal to refuse to treat people who are transgender? What's going on with drugs that have been disappearing from the clinic? Is it possible Jonah has a drug problem Georgia doesn't know about?

OK, hmm. There are a lot more questions than that and then, of course, the simmering, long-distance romance between Georgia and Mark (the airplane patient), both of whom experienced similar losses early in life. The farther you get into The Antidote for Everything, the more complex the plot becomes and the more harrowing the events. Taken as separate ideas, I liked much of what this book is about. I liked the wit and humor (as in the quote above). I liked the three main characters. I liked the fact that it touches on a hot-button topic (discrimination against LGBTQ), and I thought the element of romance felt realistic. There's a lot to admire in The Antidote for Everything. The author is a doctor and her writing is sharp. She even managed to find a surprisingly large number of LGBTQ sensitivity readers to make sure she got it right.

But, I found the book was not as cohesive as I'd have liked it to be. I thought Kimmery Martin handled the emotions of attraction and how finding commonalities feeds into the magnetism between two people very nicely. But, the fact that Georgia and Mark spent most of their time on separate continents and because of that the romance was just an element threaded through the main story bugged me, for some reason. It sometimes felt like Mark was almost an afterthought. I also felt like the book made me a little too angsty. I'm not LGBTQ, but I have a lot of friends who are and the fact that our government is currently weakening anti-discrimination laws and removing rules or guidelines to stop discrimination is incredibly frustrating, primarily because it makes no sense to me. Why would someone be offended if their renter is gay? Why would anyone feel like baking a cake is participating in a wedding? They're just transactions. On that note, the pain of rejection is something I thought the author handled especially well.

Off my soapbox.

Recommended - A timely topic, great characters, and much to discuss. I didn't fall in love with this book, but I liked it a lot and I think it would make a good book club selection if you're not afraid to tackle religious freedom vs. discrimination.

Update: I totally forgot to thank Berkley for the review copy. Thank you!!! I will seek out more by Kimmery Martin.

©2020 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, February 26, 2020

Top Reads in 2019 - fiction

I may (or may not) do a separate post on nonfiction and children's favorites, later, but I decided I needed to go ahead and get this post done. In the end, I opted not to narrow down to 5 or 10 and instead just stack up every book I put in my favorites corner on the pile, but I can actually narrow down pretty easily, now that I've had time to stare at the stack and ponder. So, I've put an asterisk by each of my Top 5.

My 2019 Fiction Favorites:

1. The Round House by Louise Erdrich - The mystery of a brutal rape and the teenage boy determined to solve it shines a light on how poorly the law works for Native American women due to the clash between Reservation law and that of non-Native land.

2. Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau* - A WWII story of escape from a Nazi prison camp into the mountains and the brief romance of two of the escapees is one of the books that has most firmly stuck with me. I have got to find more by this author. You can click through to read my review but I called it "heartbreaking and achingly beautiful".

3. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen* - Time travel is one of my absolute favorite story elements and Mike Chen combined that element along with a dilemma about the family his time-traveling protagonist must leave behind to a stirring emotional level that's equally satisfying as a sci-fi.

4. In Another Time by Jillian Cantor* - Another book with a time travel element, this time a portal from Nazi Germany to the future. The author kept me guessing and the pages absolutely flew.

5. Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen* - When people asked me what my #1 read was in 2019, I always answered Harry's Trees. The story of a widow, a widower, and a little girl, there was just something magical and charming and transcendent about this book. It's a clutch-to-your-chest-and-sigh book. It's going on the good shelves.

6. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman - Another charming read, maybe a little over-the-top but in such a fun way. Nina is bookish, has a cat, and is extremely organized. But, then her father's death opens up a new world and turns her perfectly ordered life on its head. So fun.

7. Vox by Christina Dalcher* - The book I was most worried about because of mixed reviews, Vox turned out to be so gripping that I was shocked at my inability to put it down. Very thought-provoking and timely. I'd love it if my book group discussed this one.

8. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri - Another book ripe for discussion, this time the story of a man who lived in a peaceful place until war drove him and his family out of the country. From happy family to grieving refugees, they seek a better life.

9. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson - A stranger infiltrates a neighborhood book club, gets everyone drunk, and asks probing questions to set them up. But, she doesn't know what she's getting into, this time. I love Joshilyn Jackson's writing but I thought she reached a new level with this novel.

10. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves  - One of those books that was so gripping I told my husband I'd see him when I finished. And, yet, it was a relationship book, not a thriller! Wild.

11. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright - I considered leaving this one out of the favorites stack because I went back and changed my rating and its flaws seemed to have been mentally amplified over time. Still, as I was reading it I was so rapt that I remember how much I enjoyed the story. And, it did end up in the favorites corner. So, I decided to leave it.

12. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center - I had to reread my review to remember what the conflict was in this story, but I still remember the tension and one particularly heart-pounding scene. I have not yet read a second Katherine Center book. I need to amend that. Though the story didn't entirely stick with me, the feeling I got from the reading did.

13. How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper - This is a "house of cards hit by a puff of wind" type of book. What happens when you've lied about your life and then created an elaborate story around that inadvertent lie and you're about to be exposed? Funny, gross, moving. Loved it.

14. The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner - One of three books I read that take place at least partly at a Japanese internment camp, a wonderful story of friendship that touched me deeply. I just loved it.

15. Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein - Another story of friendship but one that sours during WWII when one girl finds out she's part Jewish and the other joins the Hitler Youth. Alternating with a story that takes place decades later, when the daughter of a German woman finds out her mother has died and digs into her letters to find out the truth about her past.

All of these books had one thing in common. They sucked me in and held me tight. While some stuck with me more than others, they all moved me or made me smile, took me to some magical place or made me think.

©2020 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, February 25, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins with thoughts and a link

Reading American Dirt and even getting it in the mail was such an interesting experience. It literally arrived in my mailbox right as the controversy was erupting, after a months-long wait (I pre-ordered it). After reading a lot of articles and some thoughts by individuals, I was pretty sure I wanted to put off reading the book. I would read it eventually, sure, with a healthy skepticism of its accuracy — I'd already paid for it, after all — but I figured there was no hurry. Then, I spoke to my friend Michelle (formerly blogger Kookie at A Fraternity of Dreamers). Michelle has Mexican ancestry and she knows her history, her Mexican food, her soccer players. I don't. We finished reading the book on the same day, so we were able to chat about it while it was still fresh in our minds.



American Dirt is the story of Lydia Quixano PĂ©rez, a bookstore owner in Acapulco who unknowingly has befriended a drug lord named Javier. Her husband is a journalist and she has one child, a son named Luca. The book opens with an incredibly tense scene in which Lydia and Luca are huddled in a shower enclosure while gunfire rattles outside. They're at a family cookout and as they hide they overhear the shootings of everyone present, the search for Lydia, the men walking through the house to make sure they've left no survivors. Lydia knows the deaths of nearly her entire family must be connected to the article her husband wrote exposing Javier. Lydia thought Javier would find the article flattering. He must not have. Now, she has no choice but to run.

Javier's friendship with Lydia started innocently enough. He loved books, wrote poetry, and was oddly magnetic. Lydia enjoyed Javier's company until she became aware of what he did for a living. She's seen and heard enough, by the time of the mass shooting, to know that Javier has tentacles throughout the country so even as she's running, Lydia is careful who she speaks to and what she says. But, as she and Luca ride buses, stay in overnight migrant centers, walk, and ride the dangerous train known as The Beast, they are dogged by a young man with a tattoo that Lydia recognizes. Is he pretending to be a migrant or has he really left the drug business?

-------------------------SAFE LINE! SAFE LINE! SAFE LINE!------------------------------


Recommended with dramatically mixed feelings. Instead of summarizing my thoughts, I've decided to summarize our discussion a bit, share Michelle's review, and directly quote a few of her thoughts. I highly recommend you read Michelle's review:

Michelle's review of American Dirt at Facebook

Michelle and I were jumping back and forth between the comment section below her review (which you can see) and another post at Facebook, so you can't see the entire conversation at Facebook. This is an analogy Michelle wrote about the book:

Imagine you are in a horrific car crash and barely escape with your life. Someone asks you to tell them what it was like and before you even open your mouth someone who SAW the crash describes it. They get it mostly right, but they can't describe the physical and emotional impact the accident had on you. American Dirt is a bystander to the Latin American immigrant experience.

~Michelle McIntyre 

That seems fair.

I came into the reading from an entirely different perspective, of course: ignorance of the Mexican culture. My extent of experience in Mexico amounts to a couple of walks across the border from Texas as a young child and then a teenager. I don't remember much.

Without knowing what the author got right or wrong (except from articles I'd already read; there are tons of them online if you've missed out), I viewed American Dirt on its merits as a piece of writing, like any other novel, and my general feeling was that it was marketed badly. Billed as a tale of immigration, American Dirt is really (in my opinion) a thriller. The author is equally guilty in the mischaracterization of the book. She talked about her desire to tell the story of a people viewed as  "faceless brown masses" (a quote even I find extremely offensive — maybe there are people who see immigrants that way but I certainly do not). But, then she added that she wanted to make her heroine "someone like me". This makes little sense as Lydia is not typical of the masses; she is a bookstore owner with plenty of money and her weird friendship with a cartel boss further sets her apart.

So, there's a little bit of a disconnect, there. I think if you leave out the attempt to market American Dirt as a a novel of immigration and look at it as a thriller, it works. Thrillers tend to lack depth and are meant to be fast-paced. The idea is to propel you through the pages and give you a vicarious thrill, not to deeply examine an important social issue, although a social issue (immigration; environmental crisis, etc.) can serve as the backdrop. So, I agree with Michelle's car crash example in that as a thriller the book skims over the emotional and physical impact of immigration and focuses, instead, on the escape.

I also thought Cummins' comment in the author's note about wishing someone slightly browner than her had written the book was a bit of garbage pandering to her audience. As someone who has been published, I think I can safely say that no author wishes someone else had written her book, period, regardless of the shade of their skin. I do, however, know that writing a thriller set in another country is nothing new and, yep, authors get details wrong when they don't know the location or the people intimately or don't do their research. The argument that someone shouldn't have written a particular book has been around for ages, not just in contemporary fiction but in historical, where there can be a huge difference between fiction written by historians and popular fiction.

Michelle said she enjoyed parts of the book and agreed that it wouldn't have been so controversial, had it been marketed as a thriller. But, there were times that elements struck her as lazy googling instead of real research:

The real shame of it is most of those details could have been avoided if she’d just done her research. I’m sure she Googled “famous Mexican soccer player” to get the name Hernandez, but if she’d just turned around and Googled his name she would have realized he’s never called that. That really bugged me. 

We also talked about the author's part in the controversy. This was my opinion:

Her author's note just added fuel to the fire. She painted herself as some sort of heroine trying to reveal hidden truth. Nah. You wrote a thriller. It was good but not brilliant. It's a fun read if that's what you're in the mood for. Thrillers sell; that's the real reason she got the big bucks and the knowledgable writers didn't. A little honesty about that would have probably prevented the controversy (although, controversy generally is a good thing for publishers because any publicity is golden -- people *are* buying the book out of curiosity -- so this won't necessarily lead to thoughtful action, IMHO). [...] She also has some writerly ticks, things she reused, especially toward the beginning. One was people pouring beverages that nobody bothered to drink, including Luca. And, she did some weird head-hopping. There was one page where she was in Lydia's head, then Luca's, then Soledad's. That is generally considered bad writing, although some authors can pull it off well. She did not.

Michelle agreed and noted that Cummins referred to her mother as Abuela, capitalized, which is like calling your own mother "Grandma". It's normal to say something like, "You're going to have a great time at Grandma's house!" to your child. That's not what was happening. In one case, a policeman referred to Lydia's mother as Abuela, as well, which is just bizarre. No policeman calls a victim's mother "Grandma". If you know Mexico, you'll apparently notice a lot of little mistakes like that in the book. Another one is Luca ordering extra sour cream on his tacos — something I probably would not have noticed if I hadn't read about it, although the fact that Luca's extra sour cream order comforted Lydia did. What? Why would someone ordering extra anything comfort you? That was weird.

The bottom line:

Mistakes were made. The marketing of this book implied that there was some deep, unique revelation or insight about the immigrant experience in American Dirt when, in fact, even the journey (which is, admittedly, pretty exciting reading) was not apparently accurate. Even I noticed that Cummins had a priest warn migrants about the dangers of The Beast and then . . . nothing happened. Everyone was nice to Lydia and Luca on The Beast. I've read two other books in which people rode that train and while she is the only author who bothered explaining why people ride on top (it's a freight train — there are apparently no passenger trains at all in Northern Mexico, thanks to American influence) in the other books I read, one person who rode The Beast was raped and the other robbed.

The use of barbed-wire-wrapped centerpieces at a party and the way the author painted her nails with the cover image were additionally incredibly offensive, so it wasn't the marketing alone that stirred people up. As a white American with European roots, I would never have spotted most of the inaccuracies or seen the book as racist and I respect the opinions of those who find the book upsetting. But, I do think the proper marketing could have prevented some of the anger and hurt. And, clearly, authors should be very careful what they say about their writing.

If you read American Dirt, read it as a thriller but bear in mind what those who know the country have to say. Better yet, take Michelle's advice:

I could go on forever talking about the flaws of American Dirt, but I’d rather talk about the books that tell the REAL Latin American stories. Read Luis Alberto Urrea, Octavio Paz, Jennifer Clement, Alfredo Vea Jr. and Sandra Cisneros. Read Juan Rulfo, Yuri Herrera, Carlos Fuentes, and Carmen Boullosa. Read Juan Pablo Villalobos, Daniel Saldana Paris, Sergio Pitol and Elena Garro. All of them tell the story of American Dirt a million times better than Jeanine Cummins.

©2020 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.